Leaders who successfully motivate and mobilize their followers know how to listen for, develop, and align the talents of their followers.
- They get to know the unique capabilities of those with whom they work.
- They find specific ways to grow those talents.
- They collaborate in designing processes that deploy those talents for the best results possible.
Barbara Kellerman, from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, has been studying 'followership' for many years. She thinks it's the hidden element in the leadership equation. Her article in the December 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review presents a new typology of followers based on their response to leaders:
- Isolates - who are completely detached and disengaged
- Bystanders - who observe but do not participate fully
- Participants - who are engaged in limited ways
- Activists - who are eager, energetic, and heavily invested
- Diehards - who will go down for their cause
Good followers, she concludes, are choosy. They make informed judgments about who they follow.
Kellerman reminds us that leadership is not one-sided, but a relationship between two parties. Followers exercise their power by adopting different stances in the relationship, depending on openness, sensitivity, and integrity of the conversations through which their leaders lead.
What we're finding in our current research project at Jazzthink is that leaders of jazz groups recognize and respect the mutuality needed to exercise good leadership within their ensembles. They motivate and mobilize followers who can take the performance to new levels of inspiration and innovation. They are confirming that there are some great lessons for leadership in the workings and wisdom of jazz.
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'.
Duke Ellington's Ears
"The ear," said jazz great Duke Ellington, "is the most essential instrument in the world."
When I was doing the executive coaching program at Royal Roads University back in 2002, I remember Marj Busse introducing us to her favourite acronym - WAIT - "Why Am I Talking." Now, for a Presbyterian preacher and former university dean and professor, that was a powerful challenge. It inspired me to start thinking about the skill of listening is a whole new way. What we can learn and provoke by considerate listening is crucial to the central task of leadership - doing your work through other people.
There are two key advantages for leaders in following the example of Ellington and developing a more finely-tuned learning ear.
The first is that we build sustainable collaboration through listening and learning. Listening shows respect. People want their passions and talents heard and appreciated. And you can't hear what they have to offer while you're talking. The wisdom of the group is always richer than the wisdom of the individual. The secret is to find ways of letting it surface.
The second advantage is that listening and learning create innovation. So much of our talk these days is discussion and debate, in which closed minds battle to make their limited perspectives dominant. That approach alienates potential allies and keeps our thinking stuck in what we already know. If we are to find new ways out of the challenges we face, we have to listen, to use our learning ear and hear different perspectives and viewpoints that will provoke new ideas and possibilities. That's what William Isaacs calls "dialogue" and it's essential to being able to improvise and adapt to the constantly changing environment in which we live.
We can take our cue from Duke Ellington. What he did with his ear was astounding. He led the greatest jazz band of the twentieth century. Let's give him the last word on the proper use of the learning ear in leading.
"I regard my entire orchestra as one large instrument, and I try to play on that instrument to the fullest of its capabilities. My aim is and always has been to mold the music around the man. I've found out that it doesn't matter so much what you have available, but rather what you make of what you have - finding a good 'fit' for every instrumentalist in the group. I study each man in the orchestra and find out what he can do best, and what he would like to do."
Leadership takes a special kind of ear, a learning ear. And we've all got two.
An earlier version of these thoughts appeared in the 'Articles' section on www.24carrotlearning.com.
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.
Peter Senge's Glue
I find it hard to believe that it's 18 years ago that Peter Senge published his classic on the art and practice of the learning organization, The Fifth Discipline. But it is.
Senge's ideal organization aligns and develops systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. The glue that holds all these elements together is team learning. And the analogy Senge uses for great team learning is jazz.
For Senge, alignment is the "necessary condition" for empowering great teams. And he continues:
"Jazz musicians know about alignment. There is a phrase in jazz, "being in the groove," that suggests the state when an ensemble "plays as one." These experiences are very difficult to put into words - jazz musicians talk about them in almost mystical terms: "the music flows through you rather than from you." But they are no less tangible for being hard to describe.... Team learning is the process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire. It builds on the discipline of developing shared vision. It also builds on personal mastery, for talented teams are made up of talented individuals. But shared vision and talent are not enough. The world is full of talented individuals who share a vision for a while, yet fail to learn. The great jazz ensemble has talent and shared vision (even if they don't discuss it), but what really matters is that the musicians know how to play together."
Making team learning happen is a crucial 'riff' in great leadership.
JAZZING UP YOUR LEADERSHIP: How effective leaders engage colleagues
Date: Thursday, March 27, 2008
Registration: 7:30 a.m.
Program: 7:45 - 9:45 a.m.
To find our more and register, click here.
Enjoy Great Jazz in Vancouver