Leadership Lessons from a Musician

From my August 28 column in West Michigan Business Review:

Sometimes inspiration about leadership comes from unlikely places. You may discover valuable lessons in life and leadership if you are open to the surprises the world offers you every day.
Last week I was walking through an airport with time to spare. In the middle of a concourse a pianist caught my attention. He proved to be a leader in his own way ?€“ a unique individual, yet very similar to leaders everywhere.

Before I saw Stephen Marq playing (www.stephenmarq.com), I was surprised by a beautiful Steinway Grand piano and the lovely, poignant music pouring from it. Approaching the piano bench, I saw Mr. Marq putting his entire soul into the music. It was a moving and engaging experience.

As I got closer, I could see that he was completely focused and absorbed in creating a powerful mood in the midst of a very busy airport. People were streaming by in the usual fashion, in a hurry to get to their flights, not noticing. However, some had stopped to crowd around the piano, obviously captivated by the music. Several children were fascinated with the open piano top, watching the strings move as Mr. Marq played. They were swaying, talking, laughing and moving in, wanting to be close to him; a few were right at his elbow. Others were trying to reach into the instrument to touch the strings. A few adults had money out, waiting to purchase CDs.

The pianist took no notice of the chaotic airport scene or of the children or adults nearby. He was completely absorbed in his music. After observing for awhile, I moved on to my gate. But I felt compelled to return to ask this man some questions ?€“ to deepen my understanding about what I`d observed. What made it possible for him to stay so focused in the midst of chaos? How was he able to project so much emotional energy that the mood of his music was reflected by those who listened?

Our dialog provided some insight to my observations of that scene: a musician at a beautiful grand piano undeterred by powerful distractions. What lessons can a leader learn from this?

Focus: Focus is important to engaging others. A leader must have the intention and discipline of focus to “play the music” that will compel others to follow in the midst overwhelming distractions.

Dedication: There is no doubt that this pianist was dedicated to his craft. The complexity of the music he played required years of study, reflection and practice. Great leaders devote this same effort to learning their craft.

Mood: Mr. Marq sets the mood for those who listen to his music, and that mood is contagious. His music engages and captivates. A leader can also set a mood that will engage and captivate followers.

Pause for a moment in your rush through today`s work. What surprising lessons are waiting for you?

copyright 2008 by Business Review

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.