Executive Insider

Workplace jazz helps managers and teams

Imagine going to a music performance. There are four world-class musicians on stage and they are your favorites: Najee, Kurt Weyland, Boney James, and Gerald Albright. The band kicks off and they start playing. As they play the simple, straightforward, fast, and aggressive melody, Gerald Albright steps up to the mic. The band gets quiet. Gerald starts to solo and create his melodic interpretation around the rhythms and chords of the song. All the other musicians are listening intently and following along. The atmosphere changes as the music’s rhythms and jazz groove take over. Time stands still as you’re caught up in the moment.

Business is turning into jazz; it moves along the same path of improvisational, creative flow—a union of minds and souls. Because business and entrepreneurship have become so fluid and creative, an entirely new type of leadership is needed, one that sees the organization as a symphony of gifted players and not a roomful of worker bees. Those days are dead and buried. Anyone who cannot see that does not stand a chance.

What is Workplace Jazz?

Workplace jazz is developing a jazz mindset, an agile mindset, bringing it into your work culture, and creating like-minded agile teams where everyone becomes an expert in their craft.

A study conducted by Kronos and Future Workplace says, “The biggest threat to building an engaged and transformational workforce in 2017 is employee burnout. 95 percent of human resource leaders admit employee burnout is sabotaging workforce retention.”

When teams are emotionally connected and supportive, burnout is reduced, and engagement is up. Workplace jazz teaches the strategies and steps professionals need to connect with and transform their agile project teams to execute optimum results. It offers insights into how to help your teams become successful using the IMPROVISE framework to grow in emotional and conversational intelligence while experiencing the connections that professional musicians achieve when they are performing.

The Leader Mindset

Developing a workplace jazz culture starts with you as your organization’s leader developing a workplace jazz mindset and learning the skills jazz musicians use. It requires a shift from being reactive to proactive and creative.

Workplace jazz necessitates that you develop and strengthen the following skills and attitudes:

  • Improving Your Skills: Deliberate Practice
  • Measure What Matters
  • Cultivating Positive Attitudes
  • Take Calculated Risks
  • Be Open to Feedback
  • Visualize Results
  • An Aspiration to Transform
  • Surrender to Support
  • Execution Excellence

According to the McKinsey & Company report Leading Agile Transformation, “Most adults spend most time ‘in the reactive mindset,’ particularly when challenged, and as a result, traditional organizations are designed to run on the reactive. To build and lead agile organizations leaders must make a personal shift to run primarily ‘in the creative mindset.'”

To teach the workplace jazz mindset to your managers and organizations requires that the leader exemplify a creative mindset in their professional and personal life. Like musicians who learn from each other by demonstrating their musical skills and styles to other musicians, business leaders can only teach the workplace jazz mindset by showing how they’ve embraced these principles themselves.

Manager Mindset

Work environments have changed and managers have to change their management style and techniques to remain current. Most organizations have adopted an agile work culture because technology and business are adapting rapidly, allowing them to deliver value faster and efficiently. Managers need your help to transform into this new environment.

Here are five steps for managers to create high-performing agile teams:

  • Remain vigilant and do your homework on trends
  • Visualize yourself growing and mastering your skills
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
  • Embrace continuous change; all development requires change.
  • Take ownership of your skill development journey and develop a love for lifelong learning.

Team Mindset

When a musician sees another musician overcome a musical challenge, they are more likely to feel confident that they can overcome it as well. Jazz musicians tend to imitate each other during the performance; this is all based on the mirror neuron effect.

In the article What We Know Currently about Mirror Neurons, J.M. Kilner and R.N. Lemon state that, “Mirror neurons are a class of neuron that modulate their activity both when an individual executes a specific motor act and when they observe the same or similar act performed by another individual.”

The team mindset is shaped by the culture that the leaders create. The challenge is for leaders to treat their team like a symphony of gifted players ready for showtime.


Written by Gerald J. Leonard.

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Gerald J. Leonard
A professional bassist and author of Workplace Jazz: How to IMPROVISE–9 Steps to Creating High-Performing Agile Project Teams, Gerald J. Leonard offers a unique approach to accomplishing more at work. He is the CEO of Principles of Execution (PoE) consulting practice with over 20 years of experience helping large federal and state governments and multinational corporations. Gerald J. Leonard is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn and his website.