Jazz of Leadership Part Two: Staying Home To Mind The Chickens

By Ken Perlman

In my last blog, I introduced you to a room full of doctors experiencing a discussion conducted using a jazz band to guide them toward a better sense of leadership. To refresh yourself, click here. I also gave you a glimpse into the session by explaining how the jazz band related to the five stages of Tribal Leadership.

Today, I want to share a few of the great leadership lessons that came from the remarkable Jazz of Leadership session with Dr. McCurdy (aka Dr. Jazz) and Dr. Dave Logan.

  • Someone has to stay home to mind the chickens: Dr. Jazz said that someone has to “stay home to mind the chickens, and it’s usually the bass player.” They are the ones keeping the low beat that set the foundation for the others. It’s not always the bass player. When it was Chelsea, the bass player’s time to solo, Ivan on drums took over chicken minding. There are many lessons here about roles, communication, and teamwork. The big lesson for me is that leaders will enable others to lead, often by giving over the spotlight, making the space, and minding the chickens. 
  • Picking a team with the skills (and attitude) is necessary: When you see a team of talented people, you know it. Brandon, the keyboardist, mentioned the importance of being prepared as critical to the success of the band. The quartet underscored the importance of having people with the right skills, and the right attitude, as foundational to the success of the endeavor. Knowing your team well enough to compensate for their strengths and weaknesses is critical when it comes performance time.  
  • Jazz vs. Symphony: As the doctors were trying to map the jazz elements of improvisation, innovation and leadership to their care of patients (e.g., surgeries and care protocols), the conversation explored whether that is more of a symphony orchestra than a jazz quartet.  For things like surgery, we all agreed it is (or should be) more analogous to symphonies with the clear roles, clear protocols, reliance on practices and risk management. At the same time, the transition to Population Health Management (PHM), for now, is more like improvisational jazz, because there is no one symphony that has established best practice for all others to follow. PHM, for now, requires more leadership; when the models are more stable, then we can rely more on the management skills that make for good symphony performances.
  • Leaders create space in the conversation: We learned that improvisational jazz pieces are conversations between the musicians. Like “normal” conversations, it works better when the participants listen to one another, make space for each other to respond, and do not simply copy one another (e.g., “How are you doing?”… “How are you doing?”). In that conversation, the leader has to create the musical space for the other people to have a voice. Asking others to have a voice is an act of leadership that is a critical step in engaging other members of the healthcare team in delivering on the quadruple aim – patient satisfaction, better outcomes, lower costs, and physician satisfaction.

Healthcare in the US and globally is undergoing one of, if not the most significant transformation in history – in terms of new technologies, new protocols, new care models, new financial models, new practitioners, new skills, etc. Physicians, as well as nurses and administrators, have the opportunity to be leaders in this transformation. To move at the speed and scale required to succeed, we are going to have to learn more lessons from improvisational jazz until we get enough data and examples to write the sheet music. As we have seen with these 30 physicians (literally) and our clients (figuratively), when done well, it sounds great and is amazing to experience live.

Thank you Dr. Logan and Dr. McCurdy.

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