What kind of music are we making?

A few years ago I was coaching an executive who was leading her team through the rollout of a new strategic plan. While some areas of the strategy required strict execution, many aspects of the plan allowed her team freedom and flexibility to innovate and explore new possibilities for achieving outcomes.

Her primary challenge was making it easy for the team to differentiate between the two.

Like many great challenges, communication was the answer.

When I asked about her personal interests, she told me she loved ‘music’.

We ran with the metaphor and empowered the team to ask a simple question when it came to the strategy:

“Is this orchestral or is this jazz?”

In an orchestra you play to the sheet music you’re given.
In jazz, the melody is set and then musicians take turns to improvise and explore.

Some aspects of the strategy were orchestral. You play what’s on the paper.
Other aspects of the strategy were jazz. You improvise and explore within boundaries.

If we’re not careful we can get caught up trying to show someone how to play their instrument when our role as a leader is to make music.

Spend less time worrying about HOW and make sure you clearly define WHAT. Help people understand WHY and then hold them accountable to WHEN.

Sometimes it will be orchestral and other times it will be jazz. Decide what kind of music you want and then empower people to use what they have in their hand to make it.

A question to reflect on this week:
“Where am I focusing on HOW that needs more focus on WHY?”