Leadership is Like Jazz

I want to let you in on a secret of leadership that few mentors, writers, and coaches are willing to discuss. When I tell you what it is, you may find yourself a bit disoriented for a moment. But fear not. Good—and peace—will come of it.

Most leadership teaching is about “the right way of doing things.” The assumption is that in every circumstance, there is a right path that the effective leader must find and navigate. It is what makes for good leadership, we are told.

Now, no one is trying to deceive us by telling us this. They mean well and hope only to do us good. There is a flaw in this thinking about leadership, though, and that flaw can deform our leadership and pressure us into unwise decisions.

The truth is that there is no absolute right path for every leadership circumstance. There are a variety of paths. The good leader finds the one he likes among the several that will work.

Leadership is like jazz. There are a thousand variations on a theme the jazz musician can play. He chooses what feels right for the occasion and goes to work. That’s his gift.

Leadership is like running a football. We run the play the coach calls, but then chaos breaks out. There are fifty ways for the fullback to run the broken field. There is no right path. There are the two or three paths that work for him at the moment. He chooses. He acts. His gift is deciding in a split second between a few decent but uncertain options.

The leader ever in search of the perfect path will often experience a form of leadership paralysis. He will usually be too mesmerized by the abundance of imperfect options to decide what to do. He’ll strain to find the one right direction and, never seeing the perfect, will never be able to choose. The reason again, is that there are no perfect options. There are only good and workable options.

You’ve heard that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I say that the perfect is the enemy of the productive, the effective, and sometimes even the wise.

Here’s my advice. Relax. Be at peace. There is no one path which if missed means you fall off a cliff. There are a number of good options. There are dozens of unwise ones. Get good at identifying the two or three that will work and then decide. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll learn. You’ll get better. You’ll grow skills. Great leadership is within reach for you.

The only stupid option is to believe that there is a perfect path and you must find it every time. Believing this leads to bad leadership and dying young of the stress. You’re better than this. And life is more forgiving.

That’s it. Have a great weekend. And by the way, Notre Dame is on the field in a month. Oh, yes!

Stephen


I give lots of examples and anecdotes in my video course “Ten Signs of a Leadership Crash.” The stories will help you understand how the signs might play out in your life or your friend’s life. Make sure you know the signs!

2017-07-20T11:59:22+00:00July 20th, 2017|Leading Thoughts|