5 More Leadership Lessons from Jazz
By the time you are reading this, I'll be in Halifax facilitating conversations on 'Thinking in Jazz about Missional Leadership' in the summer school at the Atlantic School of Theology. Leadership in the church has a lot in common with leadership in any organization that seeks to achieve a purpose.
Over the past couple of months, several friends have sent me articles on jazz and leadership. Two stood out. Scott Olson finds 5 key leadership attributes in a jazz jam session - risking, listening, collaboration, awareness, and sensitivity. Josh Linkner finds 11 lessons in jazz for business leadership - too long to summarize, so I'd invite you to read the article. It is short.
Course prep and these articles got me thinking afresh about the leadership lessons I'm seeing in jazz these days. I'm reminded that leadership is all about relationships - with yourself, with others, and with a common purpose. Leadership is ecological, touching upon and influencing, for better and for worse, the whole system. It's not primarily being in a position, but exercising an influence. You can do that from any position in the organization or community.
Take a couple of minutes to watch at least part of this early performance of Oscar Peterson's 'Hymn to Freedom' with Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. As I listened to them over the last few days, I gave special thanks for the leadership of Nelson Mandela.
Click image to view Oscar Peterson's 'Hymn to Freedom'
Your primary leadership tool is your voice in conversation. It's like the musician's instrument in performance.
Here are five riffs on leadership that came into focus for me as I prepared the course, played off these articles, and enjoyed the trio's performance:
1. Create safe space so the collective soul is nourished.
Safe is the opposite of frightening. Leaders create this space by modeling compassion for people, curiosity about possibilities, and clarity of purpose. A collective soul emerges in this space. It is the energy that integrates intellect, emotion, and instinct into wisdom for the particular time and place the team inhabits. It sifts and sorts and selects the best strategy for nourishing the potential of the moment.
2. Invite stimulating conversation so gifts are enhanced.
Safe space is welcoming space. There is appreciation for what each guest has to offer. Even if in a particular conversation/performance, one person is playing the lead most of the time, others are attentive, supportive, and contributing their complementary brilliance to the overall impact. In the next item on the agenda/piece in the set, another person will speak out and shine. Everyone's brilliance is enhanced in the course of the whole conversation/performance.
3. Inquire into beneficial possibilities so good is done.
Welcoming space is filled with curiosity. That's the only attitude that invites people into full participation. Inquiring about what others would like to see happen and what they think will work best opens up a much broader range of possibilities than simply stating what you think should be done. Doing good is touch work these days. There are a lot of barriers and interferences. Collective wisdom and courage is crucial.
4. Provide robust support so everyone excels.
Curiosity that opens the space to contribution lays the foundation for robust support as decisions are made and the endeavour moves forward. Whether it's a project or a performance, excellence requires that the whole system be in sync to provide the many kinds of support needed to bring the project/performance to a successful conclusion.
5. Celebrate delightful impact so flourishing is the norm.
Jazz fans, both musicians and audiences, can't hold themselves back from appreciating all that the space, the welcome, the curiosity, and the support make possible. Seldom do they hold their applause until the end of the piece. Instead, they celebrate the impact of each contribution as it is made during the performance, then show even greater enthusiasm for the whole at the end. This constant flow of appreciation enables the performers to flourish.
You can take the lead in making these things happen in your team, no matter what its makeup and purpose. Take some time this summer to reflect on how you might take these leadership lessons from jazz and make them happen.
And if you run across articles or clips on jazz and leadership, or jazz and teamwork, please send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love learning more and more about the resonant power of this metaphor.