May 2008 | Volume 1, Issue #11

In This Issue
Leadership Grooves
Leadership Riffs
The Cellar Jazz Club
Quick Links

Successful organizations structure themselves into small focused teams composed of passionate and talented people with specific imperatives to achieve that are designed to make the best use of the capabilities and potential of the team.


These teams operate, as business writer Jim Ewing has observed, "more like jazz groups that they do like symphony orchestras."  When genuinely free to manage themselves, these groups tend towards self-confidence and creativity.  They adapt to deliver efficiency, responsiveness, and productivity in constantly changing circumstances.


Here are the parallels between jazz groups and successful workplace teams that Ewing found:


         They are organized around the work to be done and the assets to do it;

         They are self-contained in breadth of knowledge and experience to deliver the desired results;

         They develop their own identify, ways of work, and ethos to maximize operational effectiveness;

         They can be independent and almost rogue-like in their style, but create an exceptional performance in the end.


Within the group, the jazz dynamic works like this:


         The group agrees to the tune, the key, the harmonic progressions, and the rhythm;

         The leader sets a beat, provides the countdown, and starts the performance;

         The players carry on an unfolding dialogue of technically skilled, spirited, and expressive human beings;

         The players listen to one another and reflect internally on what they hear while they speak through their instrumental voices, depending on highly interactive communication to succeed;

         The players are valued for their ability to express themselves powerfully and their ability to relate and interact with the other performers quickly;

         The quality of performance depends on experimentation, learning, risk taking, individual experience, and personal expression that transcends previous limits;

         The goal is nothing less than the highest level of personal challenge, interaction, learning, and performance;

         At crucial times throughout the performance, the leader signals major changes in key or rhythm and tells everyone when to finish.


Ewing has unpacked with provocative wisdom the complex dynamics of great performance by drawing these parallels between teams and jazz groups.  Take a moment and reflect on the dynamics of the teams upon whom you depend to achieve your goals.  Is this potent blend of passion, individuality, talent, discipline, learning, mutuality, and execution there most of the time?  If not, what kind of considerate conversations can you have to discover together how better to realize this potential? 


The potential for this kind of performance is there in every group.  You just have to inquire appreciatively to discover it.  Enjoy the search and the results.



Brian Fraser                      


Leadership Grooves
Getting in a 'groove' for jazz musicians means playing exceptionally well, appreciating and enjoying the feel and flow of the music, and pleasing immensely all those involved in the performance - self, fellow musicians, and audience.  You find your 'groove' by paying careful attention to the source of sound, significance, and satisfaction deep in your soul.  Each month we will feature stories of people finding their leadership 'groove'.

Oliver Gannon & Fraser MacPherson


Cory Weeds is the brains behind the National Jazz Awards' label of the year, Cellar Live.  One of the most recent CDs they've released is a re-issue of Fraser MacPherson's Live at Puccini's 1977 album.  Guitarist Oliver Gannon, who played in that session, recalls the genius of MacPherson in the liner notes.


He had a real reverence for the melody of the tune.  More reverence than maybe the average jazz musician.  He used to research them.  And if there was a funny note that nobody else played, but was correct, he would play it.  I learned to truly appreciate that. 


I think he liked the trio format a lot.  There was room for him to think.  Think musically.  The trio wasn't very loud and we all ended up having to take care of a little more than we normally would.  So there was more onus on each person.  I think it probably brought out the best in all of us. 


Reverence for the melody or the core purpose of the performance and room to think that brought out the best in everyone - those are the grooves of great leadership that struck me in this passage.  Both are crucial elements in the kind of inspiring leadership Fraser MacPherson offered to those with whom he played.


To review the list of great jazz recordings available from Cellar Live, including this year's National Jazz Awards' record of the year - Jodi Proznick's Foundations - click here. 


Leadership Riffs 
A 'riff' in jazz is a melodic phrase that is constantly repeated and played over changing harmonies and rhythms.  It's a core theme around which improvisation happens.  As leaders, our 'riffs' are communicated in conversation, the most common form of improvisation or jazz on this planet.  Each month we will highlight a key idea essential to great leadership around which you can improvise in your conversations.

Brian HaymanBrian Hayman has been a real inspiration for me since I met him about four years ago.  A friend in Toronto, when I talked with him about Jazzthink, told me I had to connect with Brian.  So I did.  We've worked together and keep in regular touch.  He's very wise and a fine jazz pianist.  Here's a riff from the latest issue of his e-zine, Random Riffs.


But if we want to make a work of art of our lives, (or, as a more modest undertaking, become marginally less boring to ourselves and others) we have to find ways of, as it were, refreshing our standard repertoires; ways of finding new tunes to play and new musicians with whom to play them. Jazz musicians understand this. In fact, a life in jazz is a commitment to a lifelong apprenticeship that involves listening, looking out for and becoming engaged with unfamiliar and alien voices. Following their example, we should make a point of spending time with people who don't reinforce your prejudices.  Not speaking to strangers may be wise advice to give children, but it's something that we'd be smart to grow out of as adults. There is music being played out there that can enrich our lives if we take the time to listen to it. 


What strikes me most powerfully in this passage is the recognition that rich learning comes from putting ourselves, or being put, in a new and different situation.  We've got a choice.  Withdraw and retreat, with defenses high, or move into the situation and engage, open to new possibilities.  Success in organizational life requires the latter.  That's just one of the things jazz inspires in me.  I trust it will in you as well.


To subscribe to Brian's Random Riffs, click here to get to his website and give him your e-mail address in the box provided.  


Enjoy Great Jazz in Vancouver 

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