Saturday, 20 November 2010


I've had a fascinating day at an Oxford Diocesan course “Leadership and All That Jazz” The premise of the course is that leadership skills and techniques can be learned from the world of music. Led by Alex Steele, the day was a mixture of discussions about management techniques and improvisations by a group of four jazz musicians. The first surprise was that Alex, a very polished jazz pianist had assembled three other players – drums, saxophone and double base – who had never performed together before. At first this seemed very high risk – but it worked very well at many levels.

The aim of the course was to use music as an example of various leadership techniques. This was very effective but for me there were two other benefits. The first was a simple one: breaking up what can be rather dry material with music made the day much more engaging. However, I picked up much more from the way the musicians operated than the points on the points they were trying to illustrate. Although they had never played together before the musicians formed a team with the clear aim of making music as guided by their leader Alex. The teamworking lesson for me was that members of the team must have a good understanding or their skills and how the interact, and must know what they are trying to achieve. Looking at some of the teams I work with, we're a long way from this.

There was an excellent quote from the bass player: “leave the ego at home and play for the band” Again, clear common aim and understanding how people relate together. Of course I'm sure this is rather simplistic. I'm sure there are competitive musicians who have an additional agenda, just as there are team players with an axe to grind. However, today, the way these four played together was a model.

The session where the players were deliberately restricted was interesting, too. The aim was to support the proposition “ make the most of what you're given” They tried – and succeeded – in playing with severe restrictions: pianist using left hand on black notes only, saxophone left hand only, bass in three strings and drummer using his feet. A real lesson in doing well in spite of difficulties – not as well as if there were none but still acceptable.

But the most meaningful lesson today was a quotation from a bok by Bruce Bugbee, Don Cousins, and Bill Hybells of the Willow Creek Community Church in the US: “The primary call and greatest expression of leadership does not lie in the exercise of the giftedness of the leaders but in the empowerment of God's people. Leaders understand that what they do is not as important as what they cause to be done through God's peopleas a result of the application of leadership gifts.”

We're going to try some of the ideas at Monday's staff meeting....

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