Thursday, 1 May 2008

Leadership and Jazz

A while back Andy blogged about a lecture that he had attended in relation to leadership in Baptist churches. This touched upon the image of leader as conductor of the orchestra. It sounded as if it was a fascinating exploration, but I commented at the time that I wasn't taken with it. It’s appealing until you look more closely at the role of the conductor.

While the conductor enables, and often brilliantly, he/she only enables the players to carry out his/her will to the best of their ability and artistry. Not so long ago, it was common practice to refer to the conductor as 'maestro' which is says it all in terms of the power that the conductor has. Essentially, the conductor metaphor is one of control - the 100th anniversary this year of the birth of Herbert von Karajan is a reminder of one striking example of such control. Among the great and wonderful conductors, many have been dictatorial, others more benevolent, but whatever their style, they are the interpreter of the music - essentially it is Karajan's Brahms, Sir Colin Davis' Berlioz, and Gergiev's Mahler.

Returning to jazz, and we have something that does work - Bishop Alan picked up on this in a response to a previous post. I came across this comment in something else I was reading on leadership and thought that it was very helpful. It's by Max De Pree, in his book, 'Leadership Jazz':

'Jazz-band leaders must choose the music, find the right musicians, and perform – in public. But the effect of the performance depends on so many things – the environment, the volunteers playing in the band, the need for everybody to perform as individuals and as a group, the absolute dependence of the leader on the members of the band, the need of the leader for the followers to play well. What a summary of an organization!

A Jazz band is an expression of servant leadership. The leader of a jazz band has the beautiful opportunity to draw the best out of the other musicians. We have much to learn from jazz-band leaders, for jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals.'

I think this is superb, and for me has far more resonance.

Incidentally, the pictures I've used on the last three blogs are all by Kandinsky, and are entitled ‘Improvisation’, followed by a number – he did loads of them!

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