Leadership Jazz

This post is for those of you who have participated in the Jazz workshop or are thinking of joining us in 2009. The rest of you may find it a bit too far afield from my usual posts. 🙂

So, I’m on vacation, enjoying the Canmore Banff area. After hiking and canoing almost to the point of exhaustion, today we wandered through art galleries. In one of them, I glanced over a brochure and noticed that tonight there was a program called Leadership Jazz in the Banff Centre sponsored by Leadership Development, free! So we went and enjoyed a great interactive evening with Jazz Impact. What follows are my scribbles and notes, direct quotes…. if you’ve participated in Jazz , I’m sure this will resonate with you like it did for me.

Observations on what Jazz musicians do….
Jazz is a HOW not a WHAT…

  • listening to each other
  • letting each have their turn to shine
  • building off each other’s ideas
  • some dissonance in the chords but rhythm
  • smiling, showing passion
  • they don’t try to replicate a song exactly the same as it was the last time
  • jazz is full of diminished chords – 7ths! – cool chords – but not perfect clean triad majors

Random thoughts….

  • To find creativity go to the intersection of disciplines…. “intersectional innovation”
  • collaborative innovations, collaborative negotiations
  • risk, listening, courage to embrace change
  • jazz musicians are comfortable with discomfort – the wildness of Jazz
  • some may think improvisation is loss of control and unpredictability, but it’s really moving from certainty of the present moment to the uncertainty of what comes next
  • one person improvising alone is not relevant or useful to business or an organization
  • structure plus flexibility – structured time plus local time
  • jazz is a way to interpret, discover, and actualize our ideas simultaneously
  • jazz is the only place where you lead and support at the same time – syncopation – critical that both pieces happen at each site
  • none of the individual parts lose their integrity – unique but together
  • they trust each other – Jerome said sometimes you have to bear the burden of someone who doesn’t have it together – it’s like pulling teeth – one person can throw it off by being a drag – but in their jazz ensemble, they can relax – it feels like home – you know everyone will do their part. It takes being prepared and ready to for what is next – when deciding who will be the soloist next….
  • you’re in the place of having blind folds – you feel the intention of the people you’re “jazzing” with

The presentation was organized around five important parts to jazz: autonomy, passion, risk, innovation, listening.


  • interactive autonomy – team focused interaction
  • feeling responsibility for your part – this is huge!!
  • intellectual athletics – hard work to blend with others – critical for our collaboration
  • when you lead in jazz, you’re the soloist – the other people create the context
  • the supportive role is critical; comping skills are critical – we must learn to support others – you have to be able to support and lead both, to host a Jazz workshop
  • interactive innovation is not achieved by power
  • note how they give clues to know when to read and when to pull back and let others lead


  • passion makes connecting possible – connecting between the ensemble members, and connecting with the audience
  • we have a fear of uncertainty around creativity; must let it go
  • passion requires emotional commitment
  • emotional commitment gets us part hard spots and hurdles and difficult times – you can’t just “receive” the Jazz workshop – you have to be emotionally committed to do your part and jump in where you’re needed it
  • you manage passion by valuing it
  • how do you create an environment where passion is at the individual level?
  • innovation is contagious – new ideas compliment the other person’s ideas
  • “I’m playing with someone who is actually listening” – is what you find out when they play off your ideas (Jerome)
  • level of accountability is crucial to passion – each person’s piece is crucial for success
  • you have joy and pleasure in others’ successes
  • Respect. Space. Play. (Audience comment)
  • Respect is important when you’re taking risks


  • Jazz is high risk
  • orchestra is top down – skills to interpret a composed score from the past; with jazz its constant risk of own musical invention in real time with others
  • the tune sets up the foundation to provide minimal boundaries
  • a zone of improvisational freedom
  • most management structures try to mitigate uncertainty
  • functioning in real time, you can’t eliminate uncertainty
  • change and risk are constant – if you can’t live with the uncertainty and ambiguity and variety of connection quality and experiences, you don’t belong in Jazz
  • ask questions without fear of reprisal
  • take the risk


  • Do the structures in you work with provide fluid flexibility?
  • chord changes are the structure, the foundation for the tune – the basic framework of Jazz is the foundation – but lots can happen by being flexible around it…
  • constantly trying to discover new ways to move forward
  • the ideas go back and forth between the soloist and the rhythm section (leading and changing Jazz each year with new ideas)
  • much higher level of cross functional understanding and influence between leader and support section

We all put on blindfolds, were divided into four sections, and we created music together. Really cool. Listened so carefully to each other and how we fit into to big picture!

  • How do you listen for innovation?
  • creative destruction
  • reinvention of a core value established in the past
  • empathic listening – becoming cognizant of all the assumptions and judgments we create to protect against uncertainty, then suspending those judgment- do we all listen carefully to each other throughout Jazz and in preparation for? do we teach our participants to listen to each other during the small group time?

What connections and thoughts pop into your mind about collaborative experiences like Jazz and others???

4 replies on “Leadership Jazz”

  1. It is really amazing how we seemed to subconsciously name the workshop and how it captures its namesake so closely. We need to bookmark this post so we can recommend it to Jazz site facilitators to review as we are preparing for the 2009 workshop. Great thoughts Janine!

  2. Way to go, Janine – and in Canada too, eh? I love jazz but had never thought of its applications to leadership. Thanks for sharing your experience and learnings. Would have been enhanced with some tracks from the workshop. Ah well … I guess one needed to be there. Oh to be in Banff!

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