If you saw the 2014 movie “Whiplash,” you’ll surely remember Terence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons), the tyrannical jazz band leader fond of profanity and humiliating his young musicians. The film would have you believe this approach to teaching yields great performance, but that hasn’t been my experience. As a professional musician for almost 35 years, I can report with confidence that the best music teachers I’ve had took the opposite tack. They created harmony not by screaming at and berating their students but by inspiring them to get better. They set a clear example of how to achieve success, provided clear and honest feedback, and continually challenged them to improve week by week, month by month.
The same holds true in organizations. You’ve probably invested a significant amount of time and money finding the right employees, but to enable them to achieve peak performance, don’t follow the Fletcher model. Create team harmony the same way my best music teachers did. Start with these 5 simple but powerful ideas:
Many of my clients complain about having to sift through mountains of messages when only a few are really important—and they have every right to be frustrated. So be purposeful and methodical in the way you communicate: think brevity, clarity, and specificity in everything you say and write. Vague or contradictory messages cause confusion and consume valuable time to interpret. Be crystal-clear in both your written and spoken communication and you’ll save yourself and your colleagues a lot of aggravation.
Imagine if my music teachers had withheld their knowledge from me. My lessons would have been short and pointless! Be generous in how you share your experiences, wisdom, and suggestions with your team, not in a patronizing, “look-how-great-I-am” way but in a manner intended to help them excel. The great producer and musician Quincy Jones once said, “Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, young and old, shared just a little of what he [or she] is good at doing.” He’s right.
Make accountability a key value of your team not through fear but through setting high expectations. When I didn’t practice properly for an upcoming lesson, my music teachers didn’t lose their temper. They expressed disappointment and told me I could do better. That was a much more powerful way to get me to practice than yelling like Fletcher. Similarly, accountable cultures develop when leaders exhibit confidence in their people and not through fear and intimidation.
Empower employees to take initiative and solve problems on their own. Most employees, especially Millennials, want the freedom to be creative, take calculated risks, and try new things. You need to be prepared to encourage this behavior. This doesn’t mean allowing conduct that is inconsistent with organizational values and goals but rather encouraging autonomy, demonstrating confidence in their abilities, and providing coaching when necessary.
Few things feel as good as receiving recognition for a job well done, yet many employees hardly ever hear it. A thoughtful “Great job!” or “Super presentation!” can go a long way toward elevating engagement and morale. Had my teachers shared only criticism with me without recognizing my efforts, I likely would have stopped playing music altogether. When they know their efforts are appreciated, your employees will want to continue down the path of success.
Achieving success as a musician is rooted in finding players who not only want to make the entire group sound good but each individual player as well. It’s the same with teams. That’s why leaders need to make sure their people are inspired and well-prepared every day to meet the demands they face. It’s not easy, and leadership isn’t for everybody. But for those who accept the role, incorporating the above suggestions as part of your repertoire is the best way I know to get your team playing beautiful music together!
ABOUT MICHAEL BRENNER
Dr. Michael Brenner is the founder and president of Right Chord Leadership, a leadership development and team building company near Philadelphia. He has worked with SAP, QVC, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Boeing, United Way, and many other notable organizations during his 20-year career. Michael has spoken at numerous conferences and conventions around the world (often bringing his saxophone with him) in his quest to help leaders and teams find their groove, get in sync, and work in harmony. He is currently writing a book on leadership that features some of his favorite musicians.