Can leaders play the blues?

“The most important thing I look for in a musician is the quality of his listening.” Duke Ellington

Each time I start to coach a new client I am fascinated to find out who they are. I know that the ‘self’ they show will be part, but by no means all, of who they are.

As we work together I’ll ask about what they like to do when they are not working. So often, this is their hidden hinterland. It’s a window on the person and a resource. It is, afterall, what they choose to do and there is energy in it for them.

My clients have been secret jazz singers, inspired gardeners and avid golfers. The jazz singers know about performance and improvisation. The gardeners know about nurturing growth and the importance of situation. The golfers know about how to deliver under pressure. One of my clients told me that he was a straight-down-the-line, play-it-by-the-numbers sort of guy with no creativity. And then he divulged that he customised big motor-bikes and rode them with pride through his sleepy village. So, when he got stuck I could ask what he would do if the an issue were a bike project. He found his creativity and shifted quickly. He also discovered that his repertoire was much wider than he imagined and that was significant learning.

I try to apply these insights to myself as a coach. From playing the blues, I have learnt that: to play well you need to play with freedom; silence is musical, it’s part of the rhythm and gives others space to play; when my attention is on myself I don’t make good music; when I am dissonant I need to be totally committed to it; practising alone is not rehearsing together, rehearsing together is not performing, but each supports the other; very occasionally the music plays the musicians and then magic happens; to attain mastery you much learn, practise and commit; and mastery bring relaxation, confidence and resourcefulness and they allow you to play with freedom. And if I apply all this learning then I am doing well as a coach, so long as I remember the words of one of my favourite coaching gurus:

“When I’ve played from my mind, I get in trouble” Stevie Ray Vaughn.