Developing-Leaders-issue-28-Winter-2018-v2

Viewpoint Developing Leaders Issue 28: 2018 | 11 Taking Turns Leading Successful leaders give others the opportunity to lead, too. In a jazz performance, the idea of shared leadership includes not only solos by each musician but also more subtle leadership moments. John Patitucci, a great American bass player, talks about “leading” by using rests to create space for other members of the band to fill. We’ve all been a part of projects in which one person dominates all aspects of its direction and execution. Their leadership development goal should be to give it a rest and create the space for others to lead, too. Really Listening This may sound simplistic – because it is. It is a simpler truth. Great performances require collaboration and great leaders know that collaboration requires an extremely well-developed capacity to really listen – and hear – what others are saying. In a jazz quintet, that means listening to four other people who are communicating with you all at the same time. It’s for this reason alone that I consider jazz musicians to be more evolved than the rest of us. Our work at meetings is far easier. Generally, we only need to listen to one person at a time. Listening, particularly active listening, is simultaneously a skill, an art form and, most importantly, a discipline. Planning to Not Have a Plan Improvisation in jazz means a song will never be played the same way twice. Contrast that with well-intended but sometimes counterproductive management practices that try to ensure a product or service is always offered the same way. Wisdom lies in the balance. Jazz artists innovate within structures and forms that are both predictable and flexible. The same should be true for organizations. Fear, sometimes, is the greatest stumbling block to this kind of free thinking. Fear of the unknown, fear of failing, fear of looking foolish. Miles Davis once said: “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.” In jazz, a note is neither right nor wrong. It’s the note that follows that will make the difference. For executives, that means creating a culture that encourages both experimentation and continuous learning. Parking Your Ego at the Door Humility means that you know others can have great ideas too – and you give them the opportunity to contribute. This, of course, can lead to conflict when there are differing visions of what is to be created. In jazz, these conflicts are resolved in real time, using the guiding principle “serve the music.” Which chord change, which note will best serve the performance that is unfolding? The same applies to organizations. Can everyone refrain from advancing their own personal agenda to create together something bigger and better for the project and the organization? Jazz offers us many of the elements we need for leading and managing successful projects and organizations – from creating space for others to lead to really listening to ideas of others, from allowing experimentation in a learning environment to ultimately recognizing we can’t do it alone. If we can create these kinds of work practices in organizations, there might be a chance we can leave meetings with the same enthusiasm as jazz musicians leaving a jazz session. How soon can we do that again? Grant Ackerman is a member of the Executive Education faculty at Columbia Business School and faculty director of the Executive Development Program. Email: gra2@gsb.columbia.edu.

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