Interesting Leadership Lessons from Jazz Artists

Unsurprisingly, you can learn a few leadership lessons from jazz. Without missing a beat, professionals and musicians continue to play to the best of their abilities.

Jazz’s impact on American culture is undeniable. Miles Davis, Art Blakey, John Coltrain, and so many others influenced a music genre that has been responsible for multiple musical genres in and of itself.

Leadership takes all forms, from the audience to the soloist. You can just read on to learn more about leadership lessons from jazz.

A photo of two jazz saxophonists back-to-back demonstrating leadership lessons from jazz artists

How Leadership Can Be Musical

According to Albert Cory, leadership lessons from jazz “in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (or VUCA), organizations should be set up like jazz performers. Reacting to and anticipating rapidly evolving competitive scenarios to create value and competitive advantage.”

If you’re dancing, playing, and improvising to whatever comes your way, you’re learning to adapt — and adaptability is one of the most influential leadership lessons from jazz.

A good player will know when his instrument is out of tune, his reed is broken, or the other bandmates are struggling. Knowing when others need help or you need a break is a sign of a good leader, too.

Three Leadership Lessons from Jazz

Consider these three leadership lessons from jazz with a tune in your head. 

Master the art of unlearningabandon your routines and regime. Develop neuroplasticity by doing things that make you uncertain and uncomfortable — where the most growth is.

Perform and experiment simultaneously – Sometimes, a leader cannot pause a crisis to study potential solutions before making important decisions. You have to learn and execute concurrently.

Provocative competence – Miles Davis would call out a song for the band but then change the key. His band had to adapt quickly — the sign of incredibly improvisational skills. Introducing incremental disruption can help everyone grow.

What Leaders Can Learn From Jazz

Listening to music while working can profoundly impact your productivity and problem-solving creativity, even if you can’t carry a tune. Leadership lessons from jazz can happen to the audience as much as the players. 

A good spectator (and leader) can listen for nuance and appreciate how the change in key makes them feel, act, or move. The conductor or band leader can understand how their actions make the audience feel, work, and move. There is a symbiosis between the player and the listener.

Music and productivity have more in common than you may think, too. A loud ruckus may not be the sound of productivity for some, but those with ADHD may find the higher BPM to be what they need to focus. A calmer tune without lyrics and maybe only a saxophone can help others focus on executive functioning skills for a meaningful presentation. Music is powerful regardless of where you’re standing (or sitting).

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Coach Dave

Dave Schoenbeck
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