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September 2008 | Volume 2, Issue #3

In This Issue
Leadership Grooves
Leadership Riffs
The Cellar Jazz Club
Quick Links
 
  
 
As September begins, it's a good time to do a quick assessment of how well your leadership is exercising its influence.
 
Leadership is as simple as ABC, and as complicated.
 
One of the models we've developed at Jazzthink to help people remember the flow of great leadership is our ABC framework for thinking about your influence with others.  People will decide to allow you to influence them on the basis of three things - an ABC of leadership, if you will.  They will assess your attitudes, behaviours, and consequences.
 
Do the attitudes you hold mostly positive or negative?  
 
Are the behaviours you display mostly helpful or hindering?
 
Are the consequences you achieve mostly desirable or undesirable?
 
If your ABCs are negative, hindering, and undesirable more often than you'd like, then your leadership will lack credibility and have little positive influence.  People may conform, but they will not follow willingly.  The responsibility to change that is yours.  Blaming others, which happens more often than most of us would like to admit, projects the problem away from you and onto others.  You think you can shirk the responsibility, but you can't.  The only person you can change is you and that's where great leadership starts.
 
0809In Ronald Heifetz's classic, Leadership Without Easy Answers (1994), he offered a powerful definition of the social contract involved in leadership.  "Leadership means influencing the community to face its problems." (p.14) 
 
That's as simple, and complicated, as ABC.  It's attitudes that respect and empathize with the community's ability to meet the challenges of solving their problems.  It's behaviours that appreciate both the strength and support needed to solve their problems.  It's consequences that build positive momentum in solving their problems, one win at a time. 
 
That kind of leadership earns credibility and exercises positive influence.


Cheers,  
 
Brian Fraser                      

 Brian

 
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'.  
 
40 years ago, when he was 19, Bill Strickland founded the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in a derelict row house on Buena Vista Street in Manchester, one of the poorest and roughest sections of Pittsburgh, PA, to teach kids how to make pottery.  This modest social enterprise grew into the Manchester Bidwell Center which comprises three building covering 163,000 square feet, has 150 people on staff, and serves about 4000 young people each year through its jobs training and community arts programs.

Bill Strickland
When Strickland was showing jazz great Dizzy Gillespie through the Center, Gillespie said to him, "You know, you're a hell of a jazz musician yourself."  Now, Strickland did not play an instrument.  He was confused by the comment.  Then Gillespie explained that the Center was his instrument and everything happening there was his song.  Strickland was living his life as a jazz musician.
 
Strickland pondered that compliment for years.  He came to realize that nobody could have planned a place like the Center.  It had to rise up, be conjured up, as a "natural, almost inevitable expression of someone's desperate search for meaning and purpose."  Strickland recognized that he'd lived his life like a jazz musician plays his or her music.  He saw "how my restless quest to live a life that mattered had forced me to mine a lifetime of emotional experience, make sense of it, draw a vision from it, then find the knowledge, skill, partnerships, and perseverance I need to make that vision real."
 
What Gillespie helped Strickland understand was that he had lived his life as "a long and winding jazz improvisation."   He didn't play from a formula or from any conventional wisdom.  He took risks, stretched himself, and explored, always looking for new opportunities and trusting his talents and instincts to bring him home.  "Life," Strickland concluded, "demands the same ability to trust and improvise. ... It is the way we respond to these improvisational demands, embrace them, and use them to further our lives that defines us a musicians in touch with the melodies and harmonies of life."
 
If you are interested in finding out more about Strickland's remarkable performance as CEO of the Manchester Bidwell Center, read his book, Making the Impossible Possible: One Man's Crusade to Inspire Others to Dream Bigger and Achieve the Extraordinary (New York, NY: Currency Books, 2007).   


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.
 
Mark Levine's classic, The Jazz Theory Book (1995), begins with a list of the prerequisites for becoming a good jazz musician:
 
 Talent (ears, a sense of time, a sense of form)
 Direction (exposure to the right music for you)
 Education (teachers, mentors)
 Ambition (having the desire and stamina to practice)
 
If you don't have the ambition, Levine emphasizes, all the talent in the world and all the best teachers and mentors mean nothing.
 
I think this list of requisites has direct application to leadership.  These elements need to be part of the formation and practice of leadership for anyone aspiring to exercise positive influence, just as much as they need to be part of the formation and practice of a great jazz musician.  Let's take a closer look at each element.
 
Talent in leadership is more feel that technique.  It's technique plus a whole lot more.  The basic technique of leadership is conversation - in communication, in encouragement, in conflict resolution, in goal clarification, in alignment, and in any number of other attitudes and behaviours that make leadership work.  But what make the conversations work are the empathetic listening that precedes them, the respectful tone in which they are expressed, and the appreciative meaning they carry.  It's this feel of the conversations that will draw people into your circle of influence and keep them there.
 
Direction in leadership has to do with discovering the right way forward.  It's paying continuous attention to what you've learned about the talents of your team, the environment in which they are performing, and the purpose they've agreed to accomplish and keeping them all in alignment and sync to achieve what matters most.
 
Education in leadership involves providing the time, expertise, and resources for teams, including their leaders, to acquire and develop the knowledge and skills to achieve their purpose.  More often than not, this does not involve formal learning, but learning on the job with and from each other.  It means creating a team environment where knowledge is shared, skills are transferred, and learning from mistakes as well as successes is encouraged.
 
Ambition in leadership has to do with patience, resilience, and persistence.  Convincing people to follow is not easy and it does not happen quickly.  Leaders have to earn credibility conversation by conversation through their honesty, foresightedness, inspiration, and competence.  Then they have to keep it through respecting, empathizing, and appreciating in ways that strengthen and encourage those within their circles of influence.  It is humble service to others in the pursuit of a worthy purpose that holds the key to sustainable leadership influence.
 
As a leader, your voice is your instrument.  Mastering the art of using it to express respect, empathy, appreciation, and the laughter of joy and delight is essential to great leadership. 
 
A visitor to New York once stopped and asked a sax player in the subway how to get to Carnegie Hall.  With a glint in her eye, the busker said, "Practice, practice, and more practice."  That's true in leadership as much as it is in jazz.  And you've got practice opportunities every day of your life.
 

Enjoy Great Jazz in Vancouver 

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