loren Eric Swanson: Bob Buford, Leadership Network and the Medici Effect

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bob Buford, Leadership Network and the Medici Effect

What do Army Generals, Orchestra Conductors, and Jazz Musicians have in common?

More than you might think.

Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, the book I mentioned in my last museletter, talks about learning at the “intersection” of fields, disciplines, and cultures. He begins the book by describing Peter’s Café, a watering hole in the Azores where sailors from all over the world -- traveling to and from Europe -- hang out to exchange ideas, learn from one another, and enjoy the world’s diversity. Reading Johansson made me realize how much I am drawn to intersections.

In the last several years, Leadership Network has created learning-at-the-intersection experience for groups of pastors, taking them inside DreamWorks SKG, Apple Computer, and Southwest Airlines. We do the same now for Halftime couples.

Courtesy of my great friend, the indefatigable Frances Hesselbein, I was invited to hang out at one of the best Peter’s Café-type intersections I’ve ever experienced. The location was West Point and gathered were a dozen generals (three of the twelve Four Stars) from the U.S. Army, a dozen corporate CEOs selected by The Conference Board, and a dozen social sector leaders selected by Leader to Leader Institute. I was out of my comfort zone, but I quickly got in the flow and learned a lot. Wow! What smart and dedicated people. Mature and accomplished, but still eager to learn.

The three days were introduced by our host, the Army Chief of Staff, General John Scoomaker, a very John Wayne-type of guy, who, right out of the gate, told us of his leadership challenges. He said:
We’re in the most dangerous period of history in his lifetime.
The Army is going through the largest transition since the Civil War. We are creating a culture of service from a command-and-control/kill-the-enemy system. It’s like trying to build an airplane in flight. We call it the Army of One. Each soldier must learn how to manage him or herself and be self-sufficient, on their own in an unfamiliar environment.
Only three of ten people in our primary recruiting group (males age 17-24) can qualify to be admitted to the Armed Services today. Six of ten people surveyed couldn’t find Iraq on a map. Two thirds couldn’t find Mississippi on a map.
It’s a crisis. We must recruit 170,000 to retain 100,000.

In another Peter’s Café-type interaction, it felt like the business and social sector CEOs saw their worlds changing at warp speed too. What a time to be leaders. So who did the sponsors put before us to stir up our “Peter’s Café conversations?”
A well-known executive coach, who taught us about sensitivity in listening to peers and subordinates.
A third world expert, who taught us the realities of the countries where people live on less than $1 a day. (He flew from India to be with this group.)
The president of the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke of what it is like to reform an academic institution, one of the most conservative systems in the world.
A symphony conductor, who talked of rethinking leadership style using an orchestra as a metaphor for leadership.

Hearing these four vastly different perspectives (not a word about tanks and guns!), I found myself asking over and over: “What does this tell me about what today’s Army leadership is thinking about?” The answer, clearly, includes the human side of enterprise and learning at the intersection from leaders in completely different cultures and disciplines.

Here is an example of learning from the orchestra conductor. First of all, he seated us throughout the orchestra. I was seated between a flutist and an oboe player -- just across from a Four Star General. The conductor had the orchestra play a piece, then he wove in his comments on leadership, interviewed some of the musicians, and then played more. Some of his observations about leadership:
“It is my responsibility to wake up the talent I know is there. How do I lead? I draw forth what is there. I don’t tell them what to do. They are all professionals. I don’t make it happen. I help it to happen if they want it to happen.”
“The work is to split the musical atom and let the energy flow.”
“The first thing I do is let them play and listen to see what they bring.”
“I don’t say a word of correction until I’ve danced with them for a while and kept my mouth shut.”
“It is my work to preserve the idealism and let it flow!”


A week later and back in Texas, I found myself at another intersection. This time, the site was a mega mansion in Highland Park, about the most opulent real estate I have strolled through since I visited Versailles as a tourist -- columns, fountains, gardens, tons of marble and granite. It was freshly minted grandeur.

The program, presented by John Edward Hasse, the curator of American Music at the Smithsonian Institution, was titled, “Leadership Lessons from the Jazz Masters.” Listen for the resonance with what I had heard from Army generals and a symphony conductor just a week before. Here are the seven lessons:

1. Listen Closely
When there is no exact “script” – as there is often no score in jazz – you have to listen closely. Duke Ellington wasn’t listening for the shortcomings of his players, for the inevitable mistakes. He was listening for their greatness.

As in jazz, there’s often no word-for-word script in businesses, churches, and other organizations. If you have no exact script, you have to listen closely so you can anticipate the next move in your group

2. Find Your Own Sound
In today’s competitive environment, how do you pull ahead of the pack? One of the important ways is to differentiate yourself from the competition, to stand out from the grays or sameness of the pack and, in living color, show your — or your organization’s — uniqueness.

Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis taught us that you have to be authentically yourself, to find what’s right for you. You have to find what you do best, and find what is best for you.

3. Take Risks - Improvise
For jazz musicians, improvisation is the heart and soul of their art. The great masters of jazz are capable of creating -- on the spot -- solos of originality and brilliance.

4. Remain Fresh – Innovate
The very art of jazz is about making something old and familiar into something new and fresh -- Recombining existing elements into a novel idea, into something original.

5. Jam
You might view a jam session as an effort to break down hierarchy. In a jam session, rank doesn’t matter. What matters is your ability, your willingness to take a risk, your spirit of both camaraderie and good-natured competition, and your wits in the heat of the moment.

6. Collaborate Creatively
A critical aspect of effective leadership involves working collaboratively. Jazz masters know instinctively that “None of us is as smart as all of us.” They work for the combined good and mutual benefit of the organization as a whole.

7. Find and Nurture Great Talent
Duke Ellington led the greatest jazz orchestra in history. He treated each musician as if he or she were very special — a jewel — important to the whole team. The results were spectacular. He inspired them to perform at, or beyond, their best.

So What About You?
Put a check mark by the lessons that apply to your work and relationships.
Think of an orchestra as a metaphor. What role would you play?
Name your best-ever, out-of-the-box learning experience.


At Wednesday, June 14, 2006 8:09:00 AM, Anonymous Frans said...

What a great post - I will have to reference it! I spoke at West Point last year and I have to agree with you - there are some amazing intersections to be found there.


Post a Comment

<< Home