This is the second post in a series on leadership lessons from music. View the first post here.
One of the greatest thing about being a musician is playing with other musicians. Some of my greatest memories in life include times I performed on a stage with other musicians, from a cover band in college to playing in Moscow with a collegiate instrumental group.
Perhaps the most difficult part of playing with other musicians is playing together. That sounds incredible obvious, but let me explain a basic music term that is at the heart of this issue: tempo.
Instinct and Speed
Tempo is the speed a song is played. Remember the last song you listened to that caused you to tap your toe or bob you head? The speed you tapped your toe is the tempo of the song.
Tempo is one of the most fundamental things in music. When new music students are learning to play, their teachers often require them to play with a metronome (a device that plays a steady tempo at any speed you choose). Typically, a tempo is set for each song.
So if tempo is so basic, why is it so hard for a group? Because every defines the tempo a bit differently.
There is space between each beat. Less space means a faster tempo, while more space means a slower tempo. Getting people to define the space consistently is the challenge. If a rock band defines the space differently, they simply will not sound good. (This may explain why your high school garage band struggled.)
This musical challenge also exists in leadership. Yes, we may have a standard (like a tempo), but the issues arise when people define the nuances of the standard differently.
Our personalities, experiences, and points of view are some of the factors that impact how we exactly define the standard. You and I may be in the same department, but we may interpret things a bit differently. When that happens, things can go from out of sync to disastrous.
This is an issue because it prohibits us from collaborating well with those around us. We have people on our team who are strong in different areas, and if we can overcome this obstacle, then we can build something great.
Instinct and Leadership
So how do we solve this problem? In the same way you solve it in music: you don’t.
Yes, you read that correctly. You cannot solve it. No amount of trainings or off-site meetings will fix this issue. Why? Because it is primarily based on skill, experience, and instinct.
In music, people will instinctually adjust to the group. There are a few things you can do to help train this instinct, but it is not a formal process. Instead, the instinct is developed by experience and skill level.
Just as in music, the experience and skill level of your team may not be directly connected. I’ve known some young musicians who were unbelievably skilled, even more skilled than those who have double the experience. On your team, you may have young team members who are incredibly skilled or older team members who are not as skilled. That’s OK. Skill AND experience contribute to developing this collaborative instinct.
Your job, then, as the leader, is to help people develop their collaborative instinct. Acknowledge and praise people when they get it right, and gently offer correction when they miss they mark.
When everyone begins to interpret things in the same way, your team begins to gain a sense of rhythm. Over time, that rhythm will build into something that consistently produces great work.