Agile & Digital / Matrix Management / Virtual Teams

Jazz better metaphor for leadership than conductor of an orchestra

Whilst I was in Chicago last month I visited Andy’s Jazz Bar, and as I was watching the band performing I was struck by how often people use music as a metaphor for leadership.

Very often we talk about conductors, the leadership of an orchestra assumes there is one central person in control, that they have a very clear understanding of where the orchestra is going (the score), and that teams of specialists are waiting on their every word and are ready to be directed into making a beautiful sound.

It seemed to me that the jazz band was actually a more realistic metaphor for getting things done in complex organizations.  Jazz bands tend to be small – three to six people.  They tend to have a number of people who have got very complementary skills, but don’t do exactly the same thing. Leadership of the jazz band moves depending on who has got the expertise.

One of the great things about watching a good jazz band is that everyone enjoys the virtuoso performances of everyone else, and everyone gets a chance to showcase their skills.  When their pianist, the drummer or the guitarist are doing their piece everyone else is visibly enjoying the experience, is into the music and is happy to concede their place in the limelight to that individual, knowing that later on it will come back around to them.

This model of highly skilled groups of motivated individuals, each happy to take the lead or be a follower as required, coming together to create highly flexible and improvised music seems to be a better metaphor than the top-down, centrally controlled orchestra for leadership in today’s organizations.

What do you think?

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