Bob Lieberman's Blog

Commentary and Tools For Empowering Change

Bringing Fresh Air Into The World Of Work

I'm hoping to appear at an upcoming kickoff function for one of my clients. At an early planning meeting, I made sure to suggest useful content and activities illustrating the link between leadership and the creative process. That's my specialty, and I assumed it would be the client's main interest. When I was finished describing my suggested approach, my client looked at me and said with a disappointed look on his face: "But you're going to play one of your compositions on the violin aren't you?"

I was enormously flattered and gratified, because that exchange is in a way a dream come true. And I was also surprised. I've always believed musical improvisation was a helpful metaphor for my work, and I try to use recorded music as background whenever possible. Occasionally I even play live music as a dramatic device. But it never occurred to me that a serious corporate client would want my musical performance to be the centerpiece of a presentation.

Having had the chance to think about it now for a few days, I can see that I may have taken my eye off the ball. In concentrating on the power of the process of musical improvisation, I've been neglecting the power of the act itself.

Earlier in my career, I was told by a mentor that performing music as part of my creative leadership work would open a channel of communication with my audience that is unusual and rarely available. This is partly because it reveals my vulnerability, thereby breaking the unconscious patterns people have of relating to training. But it's also because of the music itself. Cajun and salsa music, my favorites, are happy, energetic, and beautiful. Immersion in that beauty within the learning environment sets a tone for what is possible and what is expected. There are both psychological and neurological effects that inspire people to rise to the occasion, as I found out when I performed at the last session of a recent executive development class in organizational development.

In that class, and in my own workshops, training, and consulting, I try to make it safe for people to express their innate creativity and apply it to the practical problems they face at work. You'd be amazed at how low an opinion most people have of their own creativity and how narrow they believe are the limits of acceptable creative behavior. Leaders (managers, executives, influencers) are no less susceptible to this living nightmare than the average worker.

At the same time, most companies find themselves strangled by the structures of their own success: methodologies, policies, and hierarchies of authority and responsibility. Many are literally gasping for any creative oxygen that might float their way. Even companies having an outward reputation of intense creativity still suffer in this way.

In those suffocating work worlds, live music "opens the window" to a source of fresh air that really gets the inspiration going. I'm glad my client reminded me how important that is, and I'm looking forward to throwing the windows open at this upcoming function. The first really deep breath is going to be GREAT!!!