#18 Leadership & OD Lessons Through Jazz


My organization recently closed the annual week long Learning Week, where we strive to bring the need for learning to the forefront. In that, not necessarily through structured learning, but also through unconventional means of learning, such as music, theatre etc. In this context, we were exposed to Leadership lessons from Jazz. In the 1 hour, the musicians and the moderator enthralled the audience not just with the melodies that they created together, but also with the rich wisdom of Leadership lessons from the Here and now, through their own live performance. In this blog, I am summarizing my key take-aways from this briliant session. While the original learning event focused on leadership lessons through Jazz,, I am making an attempt to draw a parallel with the field of OD.

  1. We Co-create the Melody: The band was humble enough to accept that the melody is co-created. There is no one single creator, they all contribute equally towards creating the melody. They are responding to each other in the moment, confronting each other through cues when the tune is not right, they course correct and learn in the process of creating the melody. They improvise and perform simultaneously. Leaders, in a similar manner cocreate with their teams and OD consultants with their client systems. Cocreation of the melody emerges as a result of being sensitive to each other.
  2. We are all leaders in our own space: There is no single leader in Jazz. Jazz is about being aware that you are a leader in your own space, and that you support the group through your contributions. There is no defined structure to Jazz, it operates on autonomy. In the space of leadership & OD consulting, autonomy is more about trusting the team  and client and less about designations and power dynamics.
  3. Not stepping into each others shoes: Jazz music is about ensuring that one doesent step into the others shoes. Each plays according to his strengths and respects the strengths of the other. For Leaders it is no more about competition, it is all about collaboration with their teams. OD consultants thrive on OD values, which helps them stay grounded at all times.
  4. Being Alive to the moment: Jazz music is all about on the feet thinking, by being alive to the moment (*please ignore the spelling error of momment in my sketchnote) and doing on the feet thinking. There is no scripted plan or safety net that predicts an outcome. Leadership & OD is about being sensitive to the moment and being able to convert any probable bad sitautation into a good situation through course correction.
  5. It is always about the melody and never about us: It is never a question of who is standing out or who is not. The central anchor is always the melody. The musicians play along complimenting each other, and in the process, the melody emerges. Similarly for leaders, the purpose of their drive should be their teams and for OD consultants it is the client and the process.
  6. The purpose is always larger than us: The musicians realize that their purpose is to reach out to the audience through the melody that they generate together. They are always driven by this larger purpose. In the same spirit, Leaders and OD consultants are driven by the larger purpose of the phenomena that plays out!
  7. Upholding the groove: There is a rhythmic pattern to Jazz, particularly the live Jazz experience. They exhibit radical receptivity by being able to respond on the spot. Leadership and OD also involves taking novel responses and calculated risks.
  8. There is no single leader: They all lead each other, by taking turns! Jazz has a self-empowering construct to it. Leaders are required to give autonomy to their teams as per the requirement of the situation. OD consulting similarly thrives on using self as an instrument of change.
  9. Make others sound good: Though each musician holds mastery in his own instrument, Jazz music is always about making the others sound good. Leaders should explore the possible solutions with their teams and leverage on the strengths of their teams. And in OD consulting, the client is always the king. Consultants cannot provide solutions, though we may know the cure to the problem.
  10. Can you take lead on the spot and improvise: Jazz is about being sensitive, in the moment, taking cues, course correcting, building on the rhythm, following the process, learning through the process and evolving in the process. All of these hold equally true for leaders and OD consultants. Improvisations are about having an affirmative mindset, that if only one could take charge, and say yes to the possibility that something new could emerge.
  11. Listen deeply: None of the above points will be possible without deep listening. Jazz musicians always need to be tuned into each other, in order to reach the audience. New age leadership and OD consulting is all about Appreciative Inquiry and being sensitive and tuning into the needs of self, teams, groups and clients.
  12. There is a time to stand out, a time to fade and a time to allow others to shine: The Jazz musicians go with the flow of the pattern of rhytms and decide when to stand out, when to fade and when to allow others to shine, so much so that with practice, this comes effortlessly to them.  This hold equally true to Leaders & OD practitioners. Knowledge, skill and experience will make them stand out, but the choice of juggling between these positions is determined by the context. This contextual understanding is imperative.

“Perfection in one instrument can never create a melody, its only when all instruments come together that the melody is co-created.” This was a beautiful line as stated by one of the band musicians. As leaders and OD consultants, there are areas of mastery and readily available and known solutions to existing problems. But the new age leadership and OD consulting, thrives on being sensitive to the larger inter-play of the phenomena, exploring the issue with teams and client systems, generating discussions, proposing choices, not just to existing problems, but also to evade the impact of this problem at the larger system level and negate future occurance through a systemic process.

Towards the end of the Jazz session, as an L&D professional, and a student of OD, I only felt assured that learning could also come from unconventional means if only one is open to stay curious and explore! Happy Lifetime Learning and evolving!

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