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Leadership Jazz - Revised Edition: The Essential Elements of a Great Leader Paperback – November 4, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

MAX DePREE is the author of Leadership Is an Art. He was CEO and chairman of the board of directors of Herman Miller Inc., and was recently elected by Fortune to the National Business Hall of Fame.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Esther, my wife, and I have a granddaughter named Zoe, the Greek word for "life." She was born prematurely and weighed one pound, seven ounces, so small that my wedding ring could slide up her arm to her shoulder. The neonatologist who first examined her told us that she had a 5 to 10 percent chance of living three days. When Esther and I scrubbed up for our first visit and saw Zoe in her isolette in the neonatal intensive care unit, she had two IVs in her navel, one in her foot, a monitor on each side of her chest, and a respirator tube and a feeding tube in her mouth.  

To complicate matters, Zoe's biological father had jumped ship the month before Zoe was born. Realizing this, a wise and caring nurse named Ruth gave me my instructions. "For the next several months, at least, you're the surrogate father. I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come, I would like you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger. While you're caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch."  

Ruth was doing exactly the right thing on Zoe's behalf (and, of course, on my behalf as well), and without realizing it she was giving me one of the best possible descriptions of the work of a leader. At the core of becoming a leader is the need always to connect one's voice and one's touch. finding one's voice Ruth was right. Zoe, now a flourishing four-?year-?old, and I have a very special relationship. These days, her voice and touch are as important to me as my voice and touch were to her four years ago. This interdependent relationship, it seems to me, is one of the results of trying to be a good leader, of composing voice and touch. There is, of course, a prior task-finding one's voice in the first place.  

One of the ways I have found my own voice over the years is to write. So here is another book, Leadership Jazz. I truly hope that it will help you think about the work of leaders, that it will help you in some modest way discover some of the essential elements of leadership. Perhaps more than anything, I hope that together we can ponder the mysterious energy lying impounded in the connection between voice and touch. After all, a leader's voice is the expression of one's beliefs, and the first four chapters especially deal with what we believe. A leader's touch demonstrates competence and resolve, two qualities we can discuss in the rest of the book.  

Whether leaders articulate a personal philosophy or not, their behavior surely expresses a personal set of values and beliefs. This holds true for people in businesses and hospitals and colleges and families. The way we build and hold our relationships, the physical settings we produce, the products and services our organizations provide, the way in which we communicate-all of these things reveal who we are. Such is also the case with organizations. General Motors and Exxon have genealogies, personalities, and reputations just as surely as you and I.  

Leadership can never stop at words. Leaders must act, and they do so only in the context of their beliefs. Without action or principles, no one can become a leader. This conviction is woven like a red thread through the following chapters.  

A great many people in positions of leadership are not waiting around for national or international leaders or for Fortune 100 CEOs-or for me-to tell them what to do. They realize that the work of leadership belongs to the thousands of college presidents, hospital board members, people in state and local government, parents and teachers, and people in business organizations large and small. They have already embroiled themselves in the good work of being and becoming leaders. They are eager to equip themselves to do their jobs better.  

Leadership is, as you know, not a position but a job. It's hard and exciting and good work. It's also a serious meddling in other people's lives. One examines leadership beginning not with techniques but rather with premises, not with tools but with beliefs, and not with systems but with understandings. This I truly believe.  

On a recent trip to England, I looked out of the window just before sunrise as the plane circled over central London on its way to Heathrow. The gauze of a light fog diffused the yellow lights of the city and created a brief but exciting feeling of a new Narnia. I was looking at something I had seen many times before through a new lens.  

Leaders need an ability to look through a variety of lenses. We need to look through the lens of a follower. We need to look through the lens of a new reality. We need to look through the lens of hard experience and failure. We need to look through the lens of unfairness and mortality. We need to look hard at our future.  

What will be needed by the next generations, our own children and grandchildren? When will we stop being boxed in by national boundaries and cultural stereotypes? What does it mean to modulate individual rights with the common good? Are we ready to make a commitment to civility and inclusiveness? Are we ready to think seriously about a fairer way to distribute economic results among all people? Where will we find new metaphors for these essential ideas?  

I enjoy jazz, and one way to think about leadership is to consider a jazz band. 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.  

Leaders certainly need to know where they stand. But how do leaders stand? A sound philosophy isn't enough; we all need to connect voice and touch. So much discussion these days talks of ethics as a legal line in the sand, a prohibition against certain actions. But leadership is constructive, the right actions taken in the context of clear and well-?considered thinking. The active pursuit of a common good gives us the right to ask leaders and managers of all kinds to be not only successful, but faithful. While measuring success in our society seems to be hardly mysterious enough, judging faithfulness is another matter. After all, a philosophy of leadership or management cannot be caught like a cold.  

In an effort to be helpful, let me suggest five criteria as a way to start thinking about faithfulness.   Integrity in all things precedes all else. The open demonstration of integrity is essential; followers must be wholeheartedly convinced of their leaders' integrity. For leaders, who live a public life, perceptions become a fact of life. Leaders understand the profound difference between gestures and commitment. It's just impossible to be a closet leader.   The servanthood of leadership needs to be felt, understood, believed, and practiced if we're to be faithful. The best description of this kind of leadership is found in the book of Luke: "The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules, like the one who serves." The finest instruction in how to practice it can be found in Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf, a lovely grace note to the melody in Luke.  

Accountability for others, especially those on the edges of life and not yet experienced in the ways of the world, is one of the great directions leaders receive from the prophet Amos. Amos tells us that leaders should encourage and sustain those on the bottom rung first and then turn to those on the top. Should we call this the trickle-?up theory?   There is a great misconception in organizations: that a manager must be either in control or not in control. The legitimate alternative is the practice of equity. This is surely a reasonable component in anyone's philosophy of management. While equity should certainly guide the apportioning of resources, it is far more important in our human relationships. (See "A Key Called Promise" for more about equity.)  

The last criterion for faithfulness (in this list, that is; of course you will think of more) is that leaders have to be vulnerable, have to offer others the opportunity to do their best. Leaders become vulnerable by sharing with others the marvelous gift of being personally accountable. People in a capitalist system become vulnerable by creating a genuine opportunity for others to reach their potential at the same time that all work together toward corporate goals.  

In finding one's voice and connecting it to one's touch, three questions come to mind: "What shall I promise?" "Can the so-?called bottom line truly be the ?bottom line?" and "Who speaks for whom?" I hope you'll find your answers somewhere in this book.  

You've recently been promoted. You're now a vice president or a provost or a department supervisor. Now the work begins. You haven't arrived, you've only begun to travel. In the same way, having children means only that the work of becoming a parent has begun. The biological event is very different from the love and commitment, the skinned knees and dirty diapers, the faithfulness to homework and Little League, the sacrifices for tuition and music lessons, the laughter and the tears-these kinds of things add up to earning the title "Mom" or "Dad."  

One becomes a leader, I believe, through doing the work of a leader. It's often difficult and painful and sometimes even unrewarding, and it's work. There are also times of joy in the work of leadership, and doing the work of a leader is necessary in our society.  

I hope that Leadership Jazz offers you some clues as to how leaders might act and what kind of thinking might precede action, whether you're parent or teacher, president or supervisor, preacher or member of Congress. I hope that reading this book will encourage you to see the breadth and depth of potential that exists in the work of every leader. I hope that you, too, will discover that so much of leadership is music from the heart.  

Books that explain everything give only the author's point of view and leave little room for a reader to elaborate and connect and interpret through her own experiences and background. I have left room in Leadership Jazz for you to complete this book. I hope that you will read and write between the lines and improve what I have done. Authors and leaders who see only a limited need for the gifts of followers limit themselves to their own talents. I have tried to make this book inviting, but to complete the ideas may require a serious effort on your part.  

I am not here as someone who has everything figured out but rather as one who struggles. I can't answer every question about leadership. The story goes that a German machine tool company once developed a very fine bit for drilling holes in steel. The tiny bit could bore a hole about the size of a human hair. This seemed like a tremendously valuable innovation. The Germans sent samples off to Russia, the United States, and Japan, suggesting that this bit was the ultimate in machining technology.  

From the Russians, they heard nothing. From the Americans came a quick response inquiring as to the price of the bits, available discounts, and the possibility of a licensing arrangement.  

After some delay, there was the predictable, polite response from the Japanese, complimenting the Germans on their achievement, but with a postscript noting that the Germans' bit was enclosed with a slight alteration. Excitedly, the German engineers opened the package, carefully examined their bit, and to their amazement discovered that the Japanese had bored a neat hole through it.    

A Key Called Promise  

“I have a key in my bosom, called Promise, that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.”
The Pilgrim’s Progress  

Leadership may be good work, but it’s also a tough job. There is always more to do than time seems to allow. Measuring out both time to pursue one’s own responsibilities and time to respond to the needs of others can be difficult. And leaders are constantly under pressure to make promises.  

Though I’m still learning things about being a leader, I can tell you at least two requirements of such a position: the need to give one’s witness as a leader—to make your promises to the people who allow you to lead; and the necessity of carrying out your promises. It sounds easier than it is.  

One day Pat McNeal, a scheduler in the plant whom I’d known for a good many years, called me to say that Valerie from the second shift wanted to talk to me about a very serious matter. At the time I was CEO. Not knowing me, she had asked Pat to pave the way into my office. Pat said, “I want you to know that Valerie’s a very dependable person. You would be wise to listen to what she has to say.”  

A date was set and Valerie appeared. She began by asking me if I knew that a vice president had fired the relatively new manager of the second shift without following the prescribed procedures. I told her that no, I wasn’t aware of this. She then gave me the entire story of the abrupt and unwarranted dismissal of not one, but two fine young managers of the second and third shifts by this vice president, who seemed to have lost his bearings.  

Valerie then handed me a beautifully written petition outlining the qualifications of the second-?shift manager, his performance, and his relationship with all the people on the shift. Every person on the second shift had signed.   Those of you who have had experience managing in manufacturing plants will understand the risk Valerie ran in circulating the petition and in coming to me. The careful investigation that followed proved Valerie and her co-?workers entirely correct and demonstrated that Valerie was serving Herman Miller (our company) well by protesting the firings. Valerie—not her superior in the hierarchy—was honoring corporate values and policies. She had put me and other senior managers in the position of living up to policies the company had clearly promised. Valerie was helping the leaders of the company to connect voice and touch.

Product details

  • Publisher : Currency; Revised ed. edition (November 4, 2008)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 208 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 038552630X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0385526302
  • Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
  • Dimensions : 5.29 x 0.56 x 7.96 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.3 out of 5 stars 43 ratings

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