Last week I attended a wedding out here in Marina del Rey. The setting was beautiful, right on the Pacific, the weather perfect, the gathering joyful. After the ceremony we gathered on a patio for hors d’oeuvres where a jazz trio was playing, piano, bass and sax. And they were good, really good. I naturally drifted over towards them and started actively listening, checking out how they handed off to each other, the originality and mastery they showed in their soloing, and what tunes they chose to play. I acknowledged their solos, caught their eyes individually when I could and showed them in ways that only other musicians can that I heard what they were up to.
The experience brought me back to a little experiment I conducted for some friends one night many years back. We were in New York City for a seminar and were staying at a Hyatt near Midtown. We got back fairly late one evening from dinner to find a listless trio playing in the lounge off of the center lobby. I said to my friends, “I bet you these guys are better than they sound right now. Watch this”. And with that, I walked into the lounge and positioned myself where they could see me. I started visibly responding to what they were playing, smiling, nodding, and tapping, not faking it, but choosing to catch them doing something good wherever I could. And sure enough, within a few minutes each of the musicians began to perk up, playing more presently and energetically, playing more as an ensemble, and obviously having a better time doing it. We sat and listened for a few minutes, and then said thank you and good night, all of our evenings having been enriched by those few moments.
Back on the patio in Marina del Rey, the trio was winding up their set. I came over, shook everyone’s hands and thanked them for their great playing. They asked me about my musical background and said that they would have liked to jam with me, as I obviously knew and appreciated the music. The sax player said, “Man, you really brought the level of my playing up tonight. Thanks for that”.
I don’t think I even have to make the parallel point about working with your teams. Can you try to listen them into greatness tomorrow?