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3 Remarkably Powerful Leadership and Life Lessons From Jazz

Meet conflict head-on and you might just come out the other side a respected and trusted leader.

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BY Peter Economy - 08 Mar 2018

3 Remarkably Powerful Leadership and Life Lessons From Jazz

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Here's something you don't see at the record store everyday: an original mono test pressing of John Coltrane's iconic album A Love Supreme. Now for sale on eBay, this piece of jazz history is currently listed and yours for the taking. But in the event that you don't have a spare $19,000 to spend, you can still take a piece of jazz with you wherever you go.

As work and life throw you and your leadership constant change, handle the chaos using the same strategies a jazz musician would employ.

1. Master the art of improvisation

According to Frank J. Barrett, jazz pianist and professor of management and global pubic policy at the Naval Postgraduate School, "Musicians prepare themselves to be spontaneous. Managers and executives can do the same." Missed deadlines, forgotten meetings, a presentation that malfunctions -- jazz not only requires that you keep up with the music, but it asks you contribute, no matter what notes are or are not planned. In order to guarantee success, improvise and adjust whenever anything unexpected lands on your desk.

2. Take your solo, but support others too

Don't be shy -- be proud of your work as a leader and team member. Assessing your own efforts for a business project is important for keeping your morale high. At the same time, like jazz, office work can ultimately be a group activity. Great teams, according to Barrett, "hit a groove the same way a jazz band hits a groove." Sometimes, this means "letting someone else on the team take charge," or letting them "get credit the same way soloists in jazz are supported by people who comp or accompany them."

3. Love your errors

When we put so much pressure on ourselves to do everything right, we often forget that our failures are just as important as our successes for growth and achievement. Mistakes can push both business leaders and musicians to step outside their comfort zones, which is where really valuable lessons can be found. Times of conflict, whether with yourself or with others, can show you what it takes to be a respected and trusted leader.

As Miles Davis once said, "If you're not making a mistake, it's a mistake!"

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