I’ve heard it said that relationships give us a mirror to see ourselves, and boy was that true for me last week at my regular Sunday drop-in volleyball group in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Here’s what happened.
Some years back while teaching English in Japan, I found myself speeding along on a bullet train down to Nagasaki to visit a friend whom, I’ll admit, I had a bit of a crush on. While there, my friend introduced me to one of her buddies: a successful, local architect who shared with me an intriguing tenet of his design philosophy: “Always include something inconvenient.” It didn’t take long for me to understand what he was talking about.
I first met today’s guest writer, New York jazzman Tim Armacost, in college almost 30 years ago, at a time when both of us were grappling not only with what kind of careers we wanted to pursue, but also with what kind of adults we wanted to become. While I eventually chose team development, training and coaching, Tim has been traveling the globe these last 25 years, pursuing a career as a professional tenor saxophonist — living in such exotic locations as Amsterdam, Delhi, and Tokyo. His CDs, including Live at Smalls, The Wishing Well, and Brightly Dark, have received high praise from the Washington Post and the Jazz Times. Fluent in Japanese, Tim is also a longtime student of Zen Buddhism; his meditation practice infuses his music and contributes strongly to his relaxed yet passionate performance style.
Today I asked Tim to share a few of his thoughts on team leadership from a jazz improv perspective. Here are his insightful comments:
A noted samurai general in old Japan visits a venerable Zen master at his temple in imperial Kyoto. Says the samurai: “Master, I have spent my entire adult life waging war after war with my enemies. I am ready now to turn my attention to my salvation.
The Zen master — bald, 70 years old, with wisdom lines twinkling around his eyes — famed throughout the country for his sage teachings, responds: “Visit me again in one month. During that time, meditate 90 minutes a day.”
As many of you probably know from reading my articles and blogs over the years, I’m a long-time volleyball player. Not that I’m an “A+” player, mind you… At 5’9”, I’m not exactly spiking the ball over people. But whatever the outcome, I do love getting out there and running around with my Sunday group of drop-in volleyballers in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
Over my 20 years of v-ball Sundays, I’ve been repeatedly astonished by how uncannily the game parallels life and, most particularly, the psycho-social dynamics in the workplace.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a complete sucker for the Indiana Jones movies, particular parts 1-3. Part four, Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008), never really did it for me – a bit too little too late. But ah, the first three segments, released between 1981 and 1989; they were amazing! In an Indiana Jones film from the 80’s, you had it all: a young Harrison Ford, action, excitement, humor, swashbuckling, exotic locales, beautiful heroines, etc. I put those three movies right up there with the very best Hollywood actioners, series like Star Wars, Back to the Future and Die Hard. But my question for you today is: were any of these stories “quests”? And what does this all have to do with teams and workplace engagement? To answer this, we have to come to some agreement on what a “quest” actually is.
I recently watched a sly little movie on DVD called Chef (2014), starring writer/director/actor John Favreau, that really brings home the perils of sacrificing engagement for practicality, and which demonstrates how things can begin turning around when you start following your heart.
For you movie buffs, you’ll remember Favreau from his debut in Swingers (1996), a humorous portrait of young wannabe-actors (including a very young, thin Vince Vaughn) immersed in LA’s stylish, neo-lounge scene. In Chef, by contrast, Favreau couldn’t be farther from a swinging, 20-something hipster.
There’s a lot of talk in the management world these days about boosting “employee engagement”, and for good reason. People are what matter most in an organization – not capital reserves, not resources, not even products and services. Engaged, inspired, motivated employees are what drive the success of an organization… so why, then, is so little actually being done to increase the happiness and well-being of your company’s most vital assets—your people?
How many times have you been sitting at a café or restaurant and overhead a couple at the next table in deep, intimate discussion about their relationship? It’s not that uncommon, right? Couples have disagreements sometimes – it’s natural. Why not in a café – a nice, safe, neutral environment? The question, I think, isn’t IF a couple will have differences, or even WHEN – the real question is HOW they go about doing it.
In spite of anything you’ve heard to the contrary, you ARE a “leader” in your “organization”. There’s just no denying it.
“But wait just a second,” you say. “I’m only an admin…or a mid-level manager…or a soccer mom. I’m no leader.”
This is an understandable reaction, to be sure – and yet completely inaccurate. Leadership is much more than the title you hold or the position you maintain in the company pecking order. Leadership, in fact, is how you interact with everyone, including yourself.