top of page

How do musical concepts apply to leadership?

The intersection of music and language comes to my mind often, as the result of an observation: There are LOTS of people who are fans, students or practitioners of music who also happen to be involved in leadership. This consistently surprises and delights me.

Think about the last few words in that previous sentence; surprise and delight.

How do we arrive at these exciting emotional states when we are doing something as straightforward (and measurable) as hitting a quota, successfully completing a BIG project, or getting several people on the same visionary page, to accomplish a common goal?

Throughout my thirty - plus year career I have found that building harmony within a team creates a sense of power and leaves a lasting impact that is undeniable.

In addition, when we are “in the groove” … everyone knows it. People inside the team. People outside the team. Customers. Peers. Competitors.

As being in the groove is rare and wonderful, (and surprising. And delightful…) there is a deeper, more thrilling and even more rare space called “in the pocket”. When you take your team THERE... you enter the arena of mindful leadership.

Stepping onto this train of thought taps into the concepts we explore in detail in two of my audiobooks; “Stream: Hack Your Consciousness” and its follow-up: “Deeper Dialogue; Conversations That Inspire.”

When you open yourself to allow mindful leadership to filter in, the impact is deep, and lasting. I have said in many of my live training sessions: “Language, at its core, is music.” Years ago, when I embraced the epiphany that language and music have so much in common... It opened up a whole new avenue; a whole new arena of creativity - both for myself, and my clients.

Think about it: music has tone, tempo, rhythm, dynamics…language is also described as having tone, tempo, rhythm…dynamics. When we increase volume, or choose to speak more softly, it is similar to (and in complete harmony with) how musicians make choices when performing music.

So, to address the question. How do musical concepts apply to leadership?...

Let’s start here:

· Think about what condition, environment, or culture you want to create among your team. We cannot insert culture into a team. We cannot dictate an environment. As leaders, what we can and must do is influence and imprint on our people what we want in the future. Whatever condition you have today cannot be immediately shifted, changed or improved. When I use the phrase “In the future…” we could be talking about next week, next month, next quarter …or next year.

· To ensure that we are thinking further down the road it makes sense to explore where harmony comes from, how it works, and how to inspire our people to pursue it. I'm a huge fan of exercises. Exercises engage your people; they immediately become creative. The joy of this, when done with finesse, will be watching your people happily doing most of the work! One of the challenges of being a leader is succumbing to the belief that we need to come up with all the ideas - ALL the answers.

Wildly incorrect. Understandable, of course. But simply wrong. If all the ideas come from you, YOU run the risk of either running out of ideas… or your people turning a deaf ear to the ‘tune’ the collective group can create. An exercise to create fantastic harmony among your team is to begin a meeting where the expectation is to review details, reports, KPI’s. But to set those aside and ask a question. Notice that I use the singular; “A” question. Not several questions. Harmony is created when we are all on the same page.

You may have heard this cliche many, many times, and that's OK. The reason it is used so often (and consistently) is its musical connotation. When musicians playing a Symphony have fifteen pages of music in front of them, and it is time to rehearse, the orchestra leader ensures that everyone has the same page of music in front of them. Next, the conductor will ask everyone to begin at a numbered measure. On the downbeat, music occurs. Being on the same page sets the invisible stage for harmony to arrive…and to be received (and enjoyed) by listeners.

A) Here are some questions that open a “harmony” conversation among your people. This creates an environment where new phrasing can show up, and that feeds the overall harmony of how your team begins to operate.

· What do we want to be famous for?

· If people in other departments were to describe our team... how would we want that to sound?

· How do we define the word “Great”?

· Where would we (all of us) like this team to be a year from today?

While none of these questions on their face indicate any musical connotation, what they reach for (and what they tap into in the minds of your people) is important.

Take your people to a place where they understand that no team is run - or operates efficiently - with one person carrying most of the weight. One of the joys I find in harmony is that sometimes one voice is a little louder than another; however, the voices all join to create a new sound; An ethereal and deeply resonant experience.

Harmony hits us; it moves us, starting in the gut, and then moving just a bit north, to take up residence in our heart. Remember the thrill of a chill running through you when you hear GREAT music?

Mindful leadership means that we are thinking about our people on a different level as we are listening with a more practiced and nuanced ear. This helps us to further develop the clear, impactful language that leads. This is not about telling people what to do. It is about encouraging them to contribute at a high level, and to participate in the impact of the resonance you create… together.

In addition to harmony, one of the great experiences having to do with rhythm, feel, pacing, tempo is operating in the pocket. This phrase is familiar to anyone who has performed music as part of a rhythm section. It is that rare, yet gloriously repeatable sensation where all the musicians have gone outside of themselves. Where they are in an ethereal space where the feeling is different, rare, thrilling. Audiences respond to this with exhilaration.

I have two examples of moments captured in a studio;unique, timeless, and memorable moments. Two pieces of music recorded many, many years apart - that share (and achieve) this type of goal. Something about the connection between these two amazing performances inspired me to use them as a teaching tool. The first was recorded by Miles Davis on his album: “Kind of Blue.” The first track on this seminal album is called “So What”.

I developed an exercise for leaders to go through with me, and I encourage you to bring it to your team… whether they are Jazz fans or not. Try it.

· Listen to “So What” and prepare to explain to me what you believe is going on there. This is an exercise in listening. It is an exercise in paying attention. And … it is an exercise in interpretation. Your people are interpreting what you say to them every time you open your mouth. People are discussing what you say to them with each other. I encourage you to conduct this exercise, and in one-on-one conversations have your people explain to you what is going on in this piece of music. Next, bring it to a group meeting and see what kind of agreements or conclusions come out of this discussion. Watch for who leads the discussion, who ends up being truly JAZZED by the tune. MOST importantly… see who has taken the time to listen… at all. All of these actions give you additional insights into the personalities and temperaments you are dealing with.

The second piece of music was recorded in the 1970s by the pop jazz band Steely Dan. The song, “Kid Charlemagne” can be found on “The Royal Scam” album. This song, in my humble and awe-struck opinion, demonstrates the depth, power, and wonder of a drummer playing in the pocket. Bernard Purdie, a renowned studio session drummer showcases what it means to be In The Pocket on this tune. There is an undeniable groove. It is extremely difficult (at least for struggling amateur drummers like myself) to replicate. And listening to it hundreds of times only increases the joy found in hearing it.

Mr. Purdie is famous for making hits. His “brand” is the “Hit Maker”. The main reason for his ability to promote himself this way was… he delivered. His groove, his feel are legendary.

Even if your people are not Jazz (or late – 70’s pop music) aficionados, having them listen to this music, and asking them to describe what the drummer achieves... will invariably invite them to comment on what resonated with them. Watch how each person can not wait to share their observations, interpretations, and conclusions about what the composers, musicians and producers were hoping to achieve.

Then ask: “What do you think these two pieces of music have in common?” Then watch the interpretations and creativity… fly.

Getting your people to discuss, debate, and share is powerful and instructive for you as a leader. Having them examine something outside themselves follows the theme of being “in the groove” and in the pocket, as they are both experiences that take us out of ourselves.

This is not as much of a stretch as you might think. It makes perfect sense. The people in your group (who are also musicians) may outshine the others on their team – or in their space – because musicians truly know how to listen. We (yes, in case you missed it, I am a multi – instrumentalist) find deep joy in listening, and here’s why:

· We can not wait to hear something we have never heard before

· When we hear something that resonates, it stays with us (Please go listen to Deeper Dialogue; Conversations That Inspire for more on this)

· We tend to make deeper connections with others… simply because we listen.(In my book: “How To Sell Without Being A Jerk!” I state a Painful Selling Truth: “The more I listen to what YOU say… the more fascinating YOU find ME.”

When these exercises produce a sense of energy, groove, or flow among your team, you must step out of the way… and let people fly (or sing!).

How do musical concepts apply to leadership?

The aftermath of this exercise is similar to walking out of a Top Notch concert: Part euphoria, part nostalgia, part thrill of being part of a shared experience. And THAT is how musical concepts apply to leadership.

When your people understand harmony, and the team is in the groove, new music is the result.

One (or more) of your people may become more productive, making better contributions, because they are “In The Pocket.” And they will point this out to you.

As a group...TOGETHER, they change.

They open up.


62 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page