Creating High-Performing Teams Like a Jazz Band with Gerald J. Leonard
Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall. And on this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit, I sat down with Gerald J. Leonard to talk about creating high-performing teams like a jazz band, and his book Workplace Jazz: 9 Steps to Creating High-Performing Agile Project Teams. It was a great conversation with Gerald to talk about what we can learn from performers, from music to help motivate our teams, inspire our teams and help them collaborate greater. Well, let me tell you a little bit, before we go into it about Gerald J. Leonard, Gerald J. Leonard PMP, PFMP and C-IQ coach. And he’s the publishing editor, CEO and founder of the Leonard Productivity Intelligence Institute, as well as the CEO of Turnberry Premiere, a strategic project portfolio management and IT Governance firm based in Washington, DC. He attended Central State University in Ohio, where he received a Bachelor’s in music and later earned a Master’s in music from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
Gerald is the author of Culture is the Bass: Seven Steps to High-Performing Teams, which was listed on Entrepreneur Magazine as one of the top 15 books on a business culture that you need to read today. And today, we’re going to be talking about his second book, Workplace Jazz: 9 Steps to Creating High-Performing Agile Project Teams, which was listed on Human Resources Online as one of the top must-read HR books and Gerald’s third book, Symphony of Choices, a business novel, will be released later this year in 2022. But before we go further, here we go– talking about Gerald’s second book, Workplace Jazz, 9 Steps to Creating High-Performing Agile Project Teams.
Meet Gerald J. Leonard, Musician, CEO, Author and More
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall, and I’m so excited to be sitting down with Gerald J. Leonard. And today, we’re bringing you a different type of topic. This is going to be a different type of vibe, hopefully, a little bit of a music vibe, because we are talking about Workplace Jazz and to know more about that is first. We have to get to know where that started. And so Gerald, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. And if you could go ahead and introduce yourself to The Leadership Habit audience, who would love to know your story before we really dive in how music has helped you help teams connect better.
Gerald J. Leonard: Excellent. Well, Jenn, thank you so much for having me and for getting together to have this conversation really excited to be here. So how this all started was I was 10 years old. I played piano for a little while. My sister had a guitar, which I was really intrigued with. She didn’t want me to play it. So I would sneak into her room and grab her guitar and play it <laugh> and that’s how this whole thing got started. And so, but-
Jenn DeWall: I have to ask, does she still play? Does she still play?
Gerald J. Leonard: She doesn’t! She realized that she wasn’t gonna play it anymore. And so, but she let me have the guitar and then she let me have it <laugh>
How Learning IT was Like Playing an Instrument
Gerald J. Leonard: But you know what that, what happened was I just fell in love with playing the guitar and playing, you know, string instruments. I joined a band later on with some friends of mine and I had to talk about this in my TEDx talk. And one of them was a really good guitar player and the guy could play and I knew I could match what he was doing. So I started playing bass and took, you know, bought me a bass and took lessons. And it was a time when the Lakeland civic center had been built. And so we gotta see all these great bands and I was really inspired and I started taking lessons. And so, so many things that I have done now in my adult life actually came from those initial experiences of playing music, taking lessons, paying for lessons, getting feedback, getting corrected, learning how to play together, learning how to listen. And that led me through college, through my career. I switched careers and got into IT. At a time where if you could spell IT, you could get in.
And so and picking up the computer was very much like picking up another instrument. What I didn’t know was how much music was building the mathematical and logical part of my brain. And so once I got into computers, you know, I just read everything I could get my hands on and I just took off. And I did all the certifications. I had my Master’s by that time in music. And I started noticing while I was playing music professionally and working after having kids, I didn’t wanna be on the road all the time. So I decided to do something local in the New York city area. And I started noticing that the same vibe and experience of playing in a great ensemble would happen when I was a consultant being on a great project. To me, it was the same vibe with the team.
And so over the years, this whole concept of when I started speaking and things like that and I started looking at writing a book, this whole thing of combining my worlds– because that was just living in both at the same time for most of my life– came together. And so all of my books are, have a musical metaphor because if you can play the radio, you can understand what I’m talking about. And it’s just that straightforward. I try not to be too, you know, a high-level musical from the standpoint that it’s, it’s a music book itself, but it’s just in using the concept of music and what you’ve seen musicians do when you see a music group play or whatever, that these principles come from.
Creating High-Performing Teams is Like Creating a Great Jazz Band
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. So your book, Workplace Jazz, has nine principles to developing high-performing teams. When you initially wrote that, who was your envisioned reader? Who did you want to pick up that book?
Gerald J. Leonard: Well, at the time I had a client that I was working for and I had actually written my first book, Culture is the bass with that same client. And you know, we were doing a lot of Agile work. And so I wrote it for project managers. I wrote it for people who led project managers and project manage offices for them to realize that the teams that they were bringing together, that musicians were more like, like, well, not musicians, but the workers were more like artists, right? They were much more like artists because nowadays, people are coming in and they really work hard at being specialized in their skills. So they learn how to practice their skills. But when they come together, the leader needs to be more like a conductor or the band leader, you know, help the group, understand the big intent of the performance and then let everybody use their skills and then show them how to work together. And so it was really written for that group, but it really crosses all, you know, different parts of an organization from the C-suite down to you know, most of the workers in the organization cause a lot of work today is productivity work, automation, AI, and all those things are replacing, you know, the everyday manual labor and manual tasks. And so a lot of the work that’s happening today, it’s really project-related work and Agile type work.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. Requiring us to think differently to do differently. And I think it also makes soft skills that much more important, too.
Gerald J. Leonard: It really does <laugh> cause those are the really critical skills that because you can have hard skills and you can be a really good developer, you can be a really good project manager. You can have really a really good writer, but if you stink at these other things, they’re gonna hurt you. If you’re not a good listener, you can be really good at what you’re doing, but you can’t listen to and take back and interpret correctly and learn how to work together and support others. That it’s all about teamwork. And it’s the team that makes things happen. Even though you can have great individual performance, it’s really the team. And that’s what it’s, that’s what Workplace Jazz is all about is creating high-performing teams. The way you would have a high-performing jazz band or orchestra,
Jenn DeWall: We’re essentially helping you design your band. This is our fun time to envision, maybe look at our situation a little bit differently. Yes. And figure out what else we could apply. But before we dive into your book, I really want to talk about because in our pre-call I know you and I had talked about this, the neuroscience of music. Yeah. Who, why in the heck should we even use music? And actually, no, I asked this because I’m not sure if you’re seeing this in your world, but in my world right now I am hearing burnout, burnout, burnout, overwhelm, overwhelm, overwhelm, and music to me has always been something that’s helped to shift my mindset. And, but you know, more of it from really that true standpoint, the neuroscience. Can we talk a little bit about what that even means to someone that might be like, I have no idea. I’ve never heard someone say the expression, the neuroscience
The Neuroscience of High-Performing Teams
Gerald J. Leonard: Of music, right? The neuroscience of music is that basically, you know it’s, it’s, it’s around us all the time when you’re studying, you know, you think about when you studied in college or when you studied in high school or you studied a lot of times they’ll put calming music on. They may even put Mozart some music that’s very common because our brains are like a big OS you know, like a big machine that oscillates with the frequencies around it. And so if you’ve ever seen two clocks that are like waving together and they’re like an opposite direction and pretty soon there’s a dominant clock and everything starts moving the same direction. That’s because of physics. And so our brains are impacted by music from a physical, our, our physics, our physiological standpoint in which that our, our, our cells, our neurons are all working together and music plays a big part of that.
And here’s why this it’s so important to me to share this story because of an experience I had later in life around 2018, I had a, I think we talked about this in my pre call, had a major battle with vertigo and the vertigo wiped out. What’s called the vestibular system. I was impacted my right inner ear nerve by 86%, which meant I only had 14% capability in my right inner ear nerve. When I went to the ear-nose-and-throat doctor, he told me based off he did the, all the measurements, he, he said, I’m surprised you can even hear, you’ve been that impacted. But he says, I noticed you walked into the office, unassisted. He goes, what have you been doing? I said, well, I have a TEDx talk, I’m getting ready to do. And I’ve been practicing my bass. I’ve been practicing music.
And I realized that after I started practicing bass, because music impacts the brain in such a way that it starts vibrating the brain. And if there’s blockages the brain figures out how to use other neural networks to work around the blockage and repair itself. So he says, oh, you’ve already been doing your therapy. I said, okay. Yep. I’ll keep practicing. And I said, I’ll get ready to do my TedX talk in three weeks. After having coming home from the hospital with a walker, not being able to walk. And six weeks after that event, I was on stage in Delaware delivering my TEDx talk. I rewrote a little bit of the speech. I rewrote the song that I wrote. I actually recorded with the art with a producer who worked with Washington and works with Gerald Beasley now. And it’s on iTunes called Vertigo, the song I wrote.
And I love, you know, that tune, and what it means to me, it’s all about possibilities, but it’s the impact. And so in my talk, my, my TedX talk was about what if practice is the performance, the neuroscience of music. And I share different quotes about that neuro about the neuroscience and how the brain is activated because of music. And I was a kind of a walking billboard for that experience. And I still have, I don’t call it a disability. I call it a constraint. I still have a constraint with my vestibular system, but it forced me to figure out how to do more with less. And so it’s actually made me more productive, without having to do all the traveling and everything else that I’ve been doing before. I am more, probably a lot more productive now than I was before the incident because of the, because of understanding the neuroscience of, of music and how it’s impacted my brain.
Jenn DeWall: I love that music, you know, starting your life earlier on getting excited, engaging with music then became the thing that saved you down the line. Like that is a pretty powerful story of knowing what became of stealing your sister’s guitar. <Laugh> turned into, this is the thing that’s actually going to help me learn to walk again. Yeah. And I think it’s important to share your story as you know, one of hope I think of knowing that, of how we can potentially leverage or how we can use things. But, you know, again, that there’s our own determination, our own willingness, that can also help our ability to be resilient and to persevere and to rebuild, even when I’m sure when coming back from that hospital and feeling like I have a TedX talk in three weeks and I am not walking in the same ability like that, would’ve been so easy to just say, all right, cancel it. I, you know, we’re not gonna do it. There’s no way. And I just have to focus on this if it even happens again.
Gerald J. Leonard: Exactly. And what was really interesting is my doctor told me that if I had not been a musician, it would’ve taken me two years to get back on my feet. And that was the impact of music and, you know, but here’s the interesting part of the concept and went, and I wrote the book workplace jazz after that incident. And I, because I was so moved by the power of music and it, that you don’t have to be a musician to experience all the benefits. I think it’s what I, the way I write the book and what I shared in the book is really understanding the principles behind the way musicians operate individually and, and collectively, you know, I started off talking about, you know, the improved principle, right?
Jenn DeWall: Yeah! Let’s, dive into the principles. Yeah. Because you, the book has nine principles
Gerald J. Leonard: And I’ll just hit on a couple of them.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. Yeah. We’re gonna hit on a few and I’m curious, what do you want them to be able to do as a result? We’re gonna talk about a few. We’re not giving away everything. You can check out the book. But what do you want that reader to be able to do as a result of hearing these principles?
What Leaders Can Learn from Great Musicians
Gerald J. Leonard: I want people’s minds to, to be opened up to, to the various possibilities of what they can learn from watching their favorite performers. Whether it’s,you know, Steely Dan or whether it’s Michael Jackson, when he was alive and whoever it was just, okay, he has this skill, but you know, I have the ability to have some of the same attributes. I may not be able to sing like him, but I can have the same joy and same attributes if I learn some of these principles, but I can also build really great teams, teams that really work well together and perform well together. Because the way I look at is when I’m working with my client, I look at audience, most of the time I’m talking to the people in the front row. I always keep in mind as a performer, that there are people in the balcony and in the back row. And those are people that are not in the room with me.
And so when I’m, when I’m designing a performance, I have to perform for those in the front row. But I also have to make sure that the people in the back row have a positive experience. Too many times as you know, project managers or technical people or people in business, we don’t think that way. We just think we got the person in front of us. We deal with their issues. And then we implement the project and it fails because we don’t get buy-in from the audience, or we don’t get buy-in from the people in the balcony and the back. But if you come into it thinking as a musician of, okay, I’m getting ready to deliver a performance. And I have, you know, the cheap seats and I have the expensive seats, right. And I have the green room seats.
High-performing Teams Play to the Whole Room
Gerald J. Leonard: Well, if I consider everyone as a stakeholder and really consider those people in the back, because at the end of the day, they’re the ones who are gonna be doing the heavy lifting and really living with the solution, the product, the service, updated the process of whatever you’re gonna be delivering, and they’re going to either kill it or embrace it. And if you perform it in a way and roll it out in a way that they can embrace it, then they’re going to establish it. And they’re going to pick it up and run with it because they see the benefit for them. And so I really want people to walk away from this book, getting these concepts and for each one of them, I talk about the neuroscience because I want ’em to realize that it’s more than just, you know, a skill that you were born with. It’s actually something that we can develop. It’s actually something that we can learn and that our, that every one of us have the brain that can, can can activate and, and leverage these skills.
Jenn DeWall: See, now you’re making me feel like, and maybe this is because I’ve always wanted to be a performer. So now this is my opportunity to look at life as if I am on that stage. And I think you made a very important distinction and I liked, I like the metaphor of thinking about it, you know, as if you’re playing to your audience, it’s not just the front row, it’s the people in the balcony. It’s the people in the green room. I mean, if I was at a concert and I felt that, you know, I just was at a concert on Saturday. It was so fun to finally go back and see a live show. But if I felt, because I was not front row and if I felt like they weren’t directing addressing me in the middle, that would make me so frustrated. Exactly. And so, Hey, for right now, think about what it takes to wow. Your audience. And we’ll do that by talking about Workplace Jazz, the nine principles to developing high-performing teams. Now, Gerald, one of the principles that we, you, we had talked about in the pre-call from the book was improvement. Yes. Improvement, improvement, improvement. What does that mean?
High-performing Teams Improve Through Practice
Gerald J. Leonard: Right. It means practicing. It means deliberate practicing. It means becoming, you know, getting on a journey of mastery in your skill, whether you’re a writer, whether you are a speaker, whether you are an analyst, whether you are a developer, it means practicing. It means practicing with a purpose and it means deliberate practice. So here’s what I mean. When I started playing music you know, I got to a point where I could play and I could listen to something and I could play by ear. But to do some of the things that I was hearing other musicians, especially when I got into jazz and classical do, I was like, I don’t have those skills. So I had to go and find a teacher. Now I was the youngest of six back in the sixties, seventies, I’m giving away my age, but which is fine, but <laugh>, but the interesting thing was I had to go do chores and mow lawns and do other things to make money, to go find a teacher, to pay the teacher, to teach me how to get better.
Jenn DeWall: Wow. That is a lot of determination for someone when you’re young, right?
Gerald J. Leonard: I’m 12, 13 years old.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah.
Gerald J. Leonard: And so that, so what I learned from that was I found a really good bass teacher who really gave me a lot of techniques and skills and, and ways of thinking. And it made me better. I never forgot that lesson. So I’ve always, throughout my entire career, have had a coach, had a mentor, had someone that I went into my pocket and paid good money to, to help me learn how to get better. And because of that, you know, I’m the CEO of two companies. I have one of the highest certifications in project management. I’m working on my third book. I’ve been interviewed by Jack Canfield. In fact, Jack and Patty are my coaches Dr. Paul Shelly from learning strategies that who deals with whole brain learning and neuroscience is one of my coaches. And so I still have a team of coaches that I work with now.
So it’s, so once you improve and you get to that point where you’re really good at what you do, guess what? When you walk into the meeting or the concert, you forget everything that you just learned. And here’s why, and here’s why, because do you think of squirrel running across the wire is thinking about, oh, let me do this. No, he just runs across the wire! Because once you’ve practiced it, you’ve embedded it into your cerebellum and, and you just know it, you, you know how to play that note, you know how to play that style. So now the goal is how can I play it in such a way that makes the team better? So if I’m a leader and I’ve, and I I’m reading all the John Maxwell books and I’m working on leadership and I’m getting mentored as a leader. When I go into the meeting, I forget about everything that I’ve just learned. And I go now, how can I take what I’ve learned and how I’m responding and focus on the larger performance and focus on my teammates? How do I leave my ego at the door? Any great music musical group, they’re gonna be, they’re gonna leave their ego at the door and they’re gonna focus on the song, who’s going to solo. How can make it sound good?
Jenn DeWall: Love? You know, if you’re, I love the, you know, there’s the designation of what someone is going to do in a band, but then there’s, how can I, that collective interest? How can I support you and your betterment, but let’s go back to improvement because, you know, it’s that piece of being willing to invest, but where do you think people are really missing that mark? Because I think there’s that, you know, from my perspective, we’re both like at, you know, coaches, sometimes people are like, I don’t know if I need a coach. Why do I need a coach? And so they’re a little reluctant to see the value of maybe having that other person. So when you think about improvement, whether it’s a coach, whether it’s a mentor, whether it’s some other support system, why do we need that? And where do you think that resistance comes from?
High-performing Teams LOVE Feedback
Gerald J. Leonard: I think it comes from a lack of understanding of the value, right? Yeah. I wrote an article for my website and I actually wrote another article with a similar title for PM World 360, which is an online magazine set up the second online magazine for project management. And the title was The Highest Paid People in the World Love Feedback. And I list like 10 athletes that over a period of time made about 6 billion.
Jenn DeWall: Wow.
Gerald J. Leonard: And it was like, well, why did they make, why did they make 6 billion? Because they love feedback. Because even at the elite level, they still had a coach. Cause they knew if I could just reduce my put or my golf by a couple of strokes, I’d win the masters. Or if I could shoot and be a little bit more accurate in my basketball, I would win the championship. Or if I could drive the car a little bit straighter, or if I could hit the guy this way, I would, I would win the golden glove. They knew that they had to improve by inches. And most of us, when we get, we finish high school, college, our master’s, we feel like we’ve arrived educationally. We may read a book a year if we’re lucky and we’re just kind of going through and getting, because now we’re like we’re done. And not realizing that to really get the marrow, the greatest things outta life. It’s that continuous improvement in pushing yourself towards mastery, that you really gain the benefit. And so when you don’t understand the value that that’s gonna bring to your life and the freedom, because when you’re an expert. When you become an expert of experts of experts, then you get all your time back because now people will put you on retainer just to have access to your knowledge and wisdom.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. That’s and that’s pretty powerful right there. I mean, to have that, and you’re touching on like that next principle of willingness for feedback, which, you know, I don’t know why when you were talking. I think about when I started my coaching practice and because it goes back to ego, right? Understanding that what we know today may not be what’s relevant today or in the future. And I’m gonna say this and anyone listening might actually laugh at me, but I remember building website 10 years ago and the mobile version was a little not great. And I remember putting out a message on social being like, do I really need to care if there’s a mobile page? <Laugh> And so many people were like, yes, yes, yes, yes. But this is still a time when people actually weren’t most of the time was still spent on coaching pages through a desktop platform. But I can’t tell you a how glad I am for that feedback. B how happy I am that I’m not trying to prove that I’m the smartest, because I would’ve missed one of the most obvious things had I held on to what I thought I knew in that moment, but can we talk about ego because what happens in a jazz band or in any band when someone has too much ego?
The Chemical Reaction that Creates High-Performing Teams
Gerald J. Leonard: Well, well more likely what happens is one, they don’t invite the guy back. <Laugh> Two, the audience can tell because the performance stinks because you know, you can’t play music and have an attitude with the other performers because music more than just being a mechanical operation of getting all the notes right. And playing in tune, it’s a spiritual connection. It’s a, it’s an emotional-relational connection. And if you enjoy the people that you work with and you’re friends with the people on stage that you’re working with and you like them, it’s going to come through, it’s gonna be emotional. It’s gonna be engaging. It’s gonna connect. You’re gonna connect at a much higher level. You’re gonna connect at a spiritual level. Here’s something I learned about the neuroscience of, of, of speaking. And which is in my assessment, is the same thing as the neuroscience of music. And I did a certification in neuroscience with Dr. She wrote the book. I just, her name just went outta my head. She wrote the book, Conversational Intelligence, Dr. Judith Glaser, She passed away a couple years ago from cancer. But I did for two years, I did a certification. So I read everything that she wrote. I read tons of white papers and go through the process, write papers and stuff like that for the certification. But one thing she says is when we start a conversation within 0.07 seconds, there’s a chemical reaction between our brains, whether we are co-located in the same room or we’re virtual and we’re across the world. You know, within 0.07 seconds. If you’re going to enjoy that conversation.
Jenn DeWall: Wait, it’s that fast?
Gerald J. Leonard: It’s that fast! It’s a chemical reaction!
Jenn DeWall: Like, I’ve heard something like,–Okay. You’re blowing my mind right now, Gerald. Because I can’t remember who had brought this up, but I remember it in speaking that, you know, your audience will determine within the first three seconds, whether or not they wanna actually listen to the leader, but it’s actually faster than that?
Gerald J. Leonard: It’s even faster than that!
Jenn DeWall: And It’s chemical. That’s what you’re telling me/
Gerald J. Leonard: Because most of our conversations and most of our experiences are chemical reactions. We’re having a great conversation right now. We’re enjoying our conversation. If they put us on a scanner to scan our neurochemical reaction, they’re gonna find that both of our brains are producing serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins which are like, they feel good drugs where you feel like, man, I really enjoyed that. I like that conversation. This was fun. Well, what made it fun? It was the, well, it was the experience. Well, what was, what gave you that experience? It was the neurochemicals of that positive neurochemical that, that you experience. It’s the same reason when you get a phone call. And as soon as you hear the person’s voice, your neck tenses up because it’s like, oh, I was dreading this call. So what, why did that happen? Because your body starts producing cortisol and adrenaline.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh
Gerald J. Leonard: And all of your, you know, the blood is moving in the wrong direction and, and your body’s getting tense and you feel it. And it turns out to be a horrible phone call, are you? It was uncomfortable. Or the meeting was uncomfortable. And we as leaders have the ability to control that. Because if we understand the neuroscience of conversations, we understand the neuroscience of music. We know we can do things to come into a meeting and create fun, joy, you know, a great atmosphere which will then start producing in everyone who’s participating this brain oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and they’re away a great experience saying this is great company. This is a great meeting. I love working this place. I I’m a great time.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh. If anyone is watching this on video, they probably just see my mouth open. <Laugh> <laugh> like, I don’t know why, you know, I never thought about it like that, really thinking, you know, and when you said it, right, someone calls you and if you think it’s gonna be, you anticipate that. Or even sometimes for me, it could be seeing someone’s name in my email. It’s like, oh my gosh, I don’t wanna open this. I don’t even know. And it might not even be anything, but it does initially set off that stress or, you know, the stress response, the anticipation, the anxiety. And then sometimes I, you know, don’t even look at it for a little bit because I’m telling myself it’s gonna be maybe worse than what it is. Exactly but my mind is blown right now, Gerald, with what you’re sharing, because even thinking about that, that reaction that I just had to a comment to take that back to the workplace. And if you’re a leader and thinking you want your team to be motivated, heck you have to be very mindful of this instant, like chemical reaction that occurs. And I know we’re gonna go back to the book, but I’m curious. Do you have any tips for them on how to maybe make sure they’re starting their meeting in the right course to be able to invite them conversation?
Gerald J. Leonard: I actually have a whole section in the book that talks about it and, and talk and has exercises and something that I’ve done in different meetings that can really pull your team together. Even when you pull a team together and you’re thinking, ah, this is gonna be kinda rough. Okay. Lemme do this exercise and get everybody on the same page.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. Okay. Like because that’s, you know, I think that’s just one of the places we forget. We forget that we’re talking to humans that actually wanna know what’s my time worth. Are you telling me it now.
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What do Corporate Cultures Get Wrong About Feedback?
Jenn DeWall: But going back to the, the principle of willingness for feedback, because I’ve interviewed quite a different, you know, quite a few different guests on the, on the podcast, but there’s still one area, I’m gonna call it maybe an industry that I think is much better at hearing feedback than any other area. And those are typically people that have a musical or performance background for them. It’s kind of like with feedback, that’s just part of the job. But yet when you get into the corporate cultures, you walk through those door feedback, it becomes this thing that we avoid. We’re afraid of it. Why do you think it is? Why do you think that maybe performers have been able to have a better relationship with feedback than maybe the traditional like corporate or small business employee?
Gerald J. Leonard: Because, as a performer, whether it’s the, the visual arts or, you know, writing or whatever, the musical arts, singing– feedback is how do you get better? Because you know, Willie Jolly, who’s a top speaker in the world with the national speaker association, he, he would say to me, if you’re in the frame, you can’t see the picture. If I’m sitting in the frame as a part of the picture, I can’t then go outside and see the picture because I’m in the picture. So there’s so I naturally have blind spots. So if I really wanna see what I look like, I gotta take a picture. I have someone take a picture, or someone tell me because I can’t see it myself. And as a musician, as an artist, as someone who’s who, who has a found a craft that they love, they wanna get better at, who are willing to hire a coach or a teacher. You desire, you wanna know what you’re doing wrong. And you wanna know because you don’t wanna keep practicing something that’s wrong because then you, that, that practicing makes it permanent.
Gerald J. Leonard: So if I’m practicing something wrong and I’m making it permanent, I’m permanently gonna be playing it wrong. But if I learning I’m open to feedback and I figure out how to play it. Right. And I practice now I’m practicing it correctly. I permanently make it correct. But the only way I can do that is through feedback. And so, you know, that’s why as a kid, I learned to go earn money, find a teacher, pay for lessons and say, tell me what I’m doing wrong. I wanted to hear, I wanted you to tell me, how do I do this? Because I wanted to get better. And once I started learning that and I started seeing myself improve, the ego went away.
It was like, okay, you know, I don’t care what it looks like, tell me what I’m doing, because I know if I figure it out and I get told what I’m doing wrong and I I’m showing how to do it right. Then I’m gonna be able to practice it correctly the first time and not embed it in wrong. And then you have to relearn it. And I think what happens is because if you’re not in one of those fields or are, are, have picked up a hobby like that, and you haven’t learned that internal lesson, then you think I always have to be right. Because in corporation and corporate’s like, well, you know, if you are given feedback and you’re making a mistake, that’s bad. Well, I must have been. And so you always think you have to do it perfectly and that’s impossible.
Jenn DeWall: Wait, so then you’re, what’s, what’s the musical, if you what’s a performer’s response to that. If, you know, knowing that perfection is rampant in so many workers, how, how did you as a musician or a performer ever get over? You know, that perfection may not always exist. Like how do you get over that to get up the courage to perform? Because you’re human, you know, mistakes are gonna happen.
What if Practice is the Performance?
Gerald J. Leonard: No, you, you realize that, that and again, that’s kind of, why did my TEDx on practice is the performance is that, you know, how you practice is how you perform. And, and it’s not that when you see a professional and it looks flawless, it’s not that they haven’t made a mistake. And at their standard, I’m sure they’ve done some things. They’re like, oh, that was wrong. I did that bad. But, but they’re, they they’ve practiced and embedded the best practices so much in their subconscious that it looks flawless to us, but they’ve learned, okay, that’s just a part of the process. And so they, they’ve learned to practice to a point where they know it’s never gonna be a hundred percent. It’s not gonna be perfection, but it’s gonna be the best that I can give. And so you learn to one, not beat yourself up over that, but you also learn to practice to the point where you can’t get it wrong. And if you get it wrong, you’re able recover so quickly that the folks out in the audience don’t even know that you made a mistake.
Jenn DeWall: And I think that’s, you know, I love that you’re driving home that piece because a lot of people, I don’t think realize the role that practice plays, and why you’re seeing what you’re seeing. We assume that somehow they took a magic, you know, pill that brought them to success without the, you know, the resilience, the dedication, the one step at a time, the consistent and continuous rehearsal. I know in your work and my work, all it is is for me, for you, I’m sure like preparation, constant practice. And because I wanna make sure I do a good job. And that means that I gotta own my stuff. Right. But yet some people are like 10, Hey, that seems so natural. I’m like, I’m not superhuman. I just practice. You know, when you bring that –
Gerald J. Leonard: It seems natural because you’ve been, you’ve practiced it and worked on it so much that it’s just a part of who you are now.
Jenn DeWall: And I still goof up <laugh>.
Gerald J. Leonard: And the part about it is, is that you, we accept the fact that we’re never gonna deliver a hundred percent perfect performance, but we also enjoy the process. Because, you know, when I, one of the things I talk about my TedX talk and I talk about a couple of books is that as a musician, you are spending 95% of your time practicing, even as professional musician. Let’s say you are, you are in a professional orchestra and you’re playing, let’s say eight or nine concerts a week. When you take how much time that is compared to how much time you have to do everything else and sleep and live and so on in practice or whatever, you’re spending only 5% of your time on stage.
Jenn DeWall: Wow.
Gerald J. Leonard: The rest of the time that you spend is all practice. Preparation and practice, after practice or practicing. The rest of the time, you’re only gonna be on stage 5% actually in the performance and those, those eight rehearsals or whatever, only four or five will be actual performances, the rest will be rehearsals. So you’re still practicing. So the whole idea is that if you don’t fall in love with the craft and the idea of practice and getting better, then you’re gonna be miserable because if you make a mistake in the performance, oh, I wasn’t, I’m no good I’m this and that. And you beat yourself up. And you, we lose the joy of why do we even start this in the first place?
Jenn DeWall: Yes. The joy piece, right? That the joy takes away. Well, and I think we can, and even coming back with a lot of performers, feedback is so beaten, not beaten in, but like just it’s in the standard part of doing that’s the line of business.
Gerald J. Leonard: Exactly.
What do Artists Know About Negative Feedback that We Don’t?
Jenn DeWall: And understanding if we could just take that rule and say, this is what leadership is. It’s not perfection. I don’t know. Who’s taught you that it’s perfect, but you’re in the business of people and we’re all way too complex for someone to find a one-size like perfect thing without, you know, continuously new actions, new experiences, engaging, making mistakes!
As a musician, what if someone came up, because I know some people there’s a greater again, sensitivity in some workplaces because of that reluctance or kind of avoidance around feedback. Right? So what happens Gerald, when maybe you do get the feedback that isn’t what you wanted it to be, what, how do you advise people to, you know, find a way to create meaning or to still be willing to feedback, to receive feedback, even though they might wanna shut down and close off for the future.
Gerald J. Leonard: I remember listening to a program from a gentleman named Steve Scott and he gave a great example of how to, how to take feedback. He says, the way you need to take feedback is just imagine you are walking on the beach and someone walks up to you and splashes you with a cold bucket of water that he just got from the ocean. It’s salty, it’s cold. You know, if it got in your eye, it’s gonna sting, you know, but you know, but once you kind of get over the shock of that, you look in the bucket and you start looking around and you find a couple pieces of gold, or you find a piece of jewelry that, that, and it’s, and it’s actually really, really valuable. He goes, that’s the mindset we have to take feedback with. When we get feedback professionally, when you get feedback, it feels like somebody threw a bucket of cold water in your face that is salty.
Yeah. Right. And if you don’t close your eyes fast enough, its stings and it stings for a couple days, it’s stings for an hour or two, your, your egos hurt. I mean, it really hurts. But if you take that bucket that they used and look into what they were saying or what they recommended, you’re gonna find some goal. That’s gonna change your life. And that’s gonna be the thing I remember being. I remember when I was in college, I did my master’s and I was actually sick. I remember having a call and I was working with my bass teacher. His name was Frank Proto, who was the bassist for Cincinnati Symphony. And I came in and I played this, this, I don’t remember what it was, but I played this piece, this classical piece for him. And he stopped and he just started yelling at me. I’m like, dude, I’m sick. He goes, you know, do you think you’re not gonna be sick if you play in a professional symphony, do you think I not, I don’t get on stage in every single concert. Everything’s perfect. He goes, I don’t care if you, if you come in here to perform, then you come in here and perform. I never forgot the lesson.
Jenn DeWall: I think that’s a really powerful lesson!
Gerald J. Leonard: You’re, you know, at that level, it doesn’t matter if you’re sick or whatever. You’re paid to come in as a professional and perform. And that’s what I had. That’s what I needed to do. And I’ve never CA I never came back into one of his lessons, not being prepared, no matter. I mean, I could have been like, you know, flew a whole nine yard shivering. It’s like, no, we’re gonna give it everything we got.
The Importance of Positivity
Jenn DeWall: Oh gosh. Picture of, all of us showed up that way. Like, Hey, I’m just gonna still commit to it. Not just being a warm body, I’m actually gonna commit to being part of the creation. So we talked about two of the principles so far our need for our own improvement and our ability to be willing to receive the feedback, but that might bring us into, you know, our own positivity. What did you mean by thinking about it through that lens?
Gerald J. Leonard: Well, the whole idea behind positivity again, is, you know, I think in my book for the positivity, I talk about some research that was done with students who do math. And had two groups of students. And one group did really well at math and the other group didn’t do so good at math. And they measured just their positivity and the neurochemicals. And the one group that was doing well they were very positive about doing math. The other group didn’t like it. So they were very negative about it. So they could tell the different chemicals that were being transpired, right? The either the adrenaline or the dopamine serotonin or the positive chemicals. And then, so the, the kids who didn’t like it thought that the kids who loved it were natural at it. So what they, when they did the research and interviewed them, they hated it just as much as the other kids!
Jenn DeWall: <Laugh>
Gerald J. Leonard: Except they just decided, you know, I’m gonna have to learn how to do this. So I’m gonna embrace math. I’m gonna go back home and I’m gonna practice my homework. I’m gonna do the homework. Then I’m gonna rip up my answers and I’m gonna do it again. And I’m gonna do it until I, okay. Now I got it. Okay. Okay. Now I I’m getting, oh, I got this. So now they go to take the test. It’s like, oh, I got this, but they’ve rehearsed it, they’ve practiced it, they’ve really worked on it. And the kids who didn’t, they, well, they didn’t. And so it was still hard for them. And so they just thought that the kids that were good at it and were positive about it, that they were doing it because they were just naturals. And it wasn’t the case.
Gerald J. Leonard: They were good at it, and they had a positive attitude about it because they worked at it and they developed that skill. And, and again, I think it goes back to the principle of positivity of that skill, and I call it a skill. Because again, if you, in, in the conversation of intelligence, the neuroscience, we have something called up-regulationg and down-regulating. Up-regulating is positive. Hey, I’m encouraging you. I’m with you. Let’s go, you know, I’m on your side. Down-regulating is I can’t stand it, you get on my nerves. Oh, you know, I, I can’t wait to get outta here. And we had these conversations in our heads. So again, imagine going to a concert and the musicians are sitting on stage and they’re going and looking at the other musicians going, and I can’t wait to get outta here. I can’t stand these guys. Why am I doing this? I mean, just that conversation alone, what kinda concert do you think you’re going? Do you think you’re gonna enjoy concert?
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. I think I’d walk out probably before they even started.
Gerald J. Leonard: <Laugh>. Cause, because you know, like something’s not right here. The notes are correct. The timing’s correct, but there’s something off.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah.
Gerald J. Leonard: But if you go to another concert where these guys, Hey man, I can’t, I can’t wait to be here. I’ve been thinking about this all day. I, I can’t, you know, I’m excited to hear your solo. They’re just there. They’re, up-regulating, they’re positive. Well, that’s gonna become infectious across the group and they’re gonna perform like that. They’re gonna enjoy themselves and you’re gonna walk out. You’re gonna enjoy yourself. It’s gonna be a transformative, emotional musical experience. And it’s simply the only thing that was different was their attitude.
Jenn DeWall: And so how do you get someone? Because we know, especially right now, you know, burnout iss again, rearing its ugly head, it’s going to be real easy. I’m sure in many different team environments or organizations for people to feel really burnt out, right? Negative. There might be layoffs coming as a result of, you know, the economy and global changes. So what tips or techniques do you have to be able to manage and maintain positivity when stuff is just not going well?
High-Performing Teams Need Leaders to Model, Coach & Care
Gerald J. Leonard: As a team leader, you should be focused on three things. And that is to model, to coach, and to care, if you model the, if you say, okay, this is how I want my teams to perform, this is a level I want to perform at. Well, then you have to come in performing at that level. So then you give them a model. And when you give them a model, you have neurosciences gonna kick in again, it’s called mirror neurons. We all have mirror neurons. If I smile and I’m like, you know, or I start laughing most like likely somebody else will smile or I start laughing or they’ll like, they they’ll just cheer up. Right? Why? Because you are seeing me and instinctively without even thinking about it, you start smiling. It’s like walking, it’s like walking down the grocery store and someone sees you that you catch each other’s eye and they smile.
What do you do? You don’t, you don’t frown back at them. Unless you there’s something else going on. If it’s natural, you’re gonna smile back. You like, Hey, good to see you too. Right? Right. Well, that’s the mirror neurons. That’s how animals learn from their moms. And, and, and, and how the pups learn from the, from their moms to, to, to do the things that they need to do. It’s mirror neuros. We have it’s, it’s like at the lowest level of being a human being. So if I model what I’m looking for my team to do or be, then I give them something to look at and mimic. And then I coach. So instead of dictating, pushing, punishing, or pulling, I coach them, I ask them a lot of questions. I get them to think about it because now they’re seeing my example. They’re seeing I’m leading the way by just modeling, not trying to lead, but just modeling for them.
What I, the behavior and the standards that I want within the organization are, are, are how I want things to go. But then as I’m coaching, I also then care. Because maybe there’s, there’s something going on with them. And they’re having a hard time modeling or being coached because they got some family issues or someone just passed away or something else has happened to them. Or they’re dealing with this challenge. But by getting in and doing all three, I’m giving them example, I’m coaching them along as to follow that example. And then I’m getting even deeper to care about them. And so again, you have a way to, to actually execute on how do I create a positive environment. And one of the exercises I talk about in my book around this area is called the rules of engagement. And it’s something I picked up from the conversational intelligence. And it was a way of getting a team together and identifying each of those core values and realizing how many of those core values are much more alike than different. And I did that with a team. And when we were done, they realized that they were so much more alike than different and it changed the entire project. Yeah. Because now everybody came in going, wow, I know you,
Jenn DeWall: I see you.
Gerald J. Leonard: I exactly, I see you. I know you, you know, you’re like me, we, we value the same things. And so there was this, the walls, whatever walls were there just dropped and then dopamine seratonin and all that stuff starts flowing. And the teams are like, oh, you know how you doing, man? Okay. Wake up. It, it gets all emotional. Everybody’s all happy. Then let’s go up to dinner, let’s go do this. Let’s go do that. And they start hanging out on the weekends together and it works.
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. Well, and the opposite of that, you know, that mirroring effect it’s if you’re modeling a very negative attitude or maybe a really short way like, cause I sometimes watched leaders. I’m like, you’ve gotta be kidding me that you talk to your team like that. Sure.
Gerald J. Leonard: And, and the team models that
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. Then they just do it to each other.
Gerald J. Leonard: Exactly because of mirror neurons,
Jenn DeWall: That’s, you know, and I I’ve heard of it. I think as, as it’s called entrainment tour tendency to entrain to someone else, if we’re not being mindful of how we’re showing up, then we entrain to someone else at that, maybe subconscious level that, and I guess maybe it would be authority or the person that’s speaking the most or blank, but we all do it. We just may not realize that we do it.
Gerald J. Leonard: Exactly.
Jenn DeWall: I mean, see, and I wish so many people knew that because it’s, it’s not so much of, no, it is. It’s everything so much of how your team shows up is a reflection of how you show up!
Gerald J. Leonard: Exactly. Like exactly. So if you want your organization to be learning and growing and excited about the mission, then they need to see you learning and growing and excited about the mission and then coaching them to become likewise and then caring for them. If they’re struggling with that.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. Well, I, oh gosh, I’m sad that we have to wrap up our podcast. We’ve only talked about three, but I mean, things that have stood to me, right? Like looking at your workplace as a performance, this is your opportunity to be a rock star.
Gerald J. Leonard: Exactly.
Where to Learn More from Gerald J. Leonard
Jenn DeWall: But then understanding that it’s all about continuous improvement and being open to feedback and walking the walk, like being positive, setting a precedent. And, but I know that we were gonna talk about a few others, but this is where everyone’s gonna have to go and pick up a book nine or Workplace Jazz: 9 Steps to Creating High-Performing Agile Project Teams, Gerald I’ll say Gerald J. Leonard as your full name in case you’re going to Google. How do people get in touch with you?
Gerald J. Leonard: Well, they come to one of my new websites, an online magazine I started a couple years ago, and it’s called Productivity Intelligence Institute. And there you’ll find a store. You’ll find books. You’ll find my interview with Jack Canfield, an endorsement with Dr. Paul R. Scheele and a bunch of things that I’m doing. And I’m publishing articles on there on a weekly basis around the topics of, you know, becoming productive intellectually, you know, basically just how do you use your whole brain to become more productive, where you’re less stressed out, getting more done and you’re enjoying life, because you’re working the way we were designed and created to work and really enjoying the process.
Jenn DeWall: My gosh, this is you are the last or the only person I’ve ever said that told me that I can be a rockstar today. I know you didn’t say it in those words. I just, I heard what I wanted to hear. <Laugh> that’s,
Gerald J. Leonard: That’s exactly what
Jenn DeWall: I that’s finally my chance. No Gerald. And I know that they can go over and check you out the productivity intelligence Institute. I know you’re also gonna be coming up with a third book, but I just wanna say, thank you. Thank you so much for, I mean, you caused most drop moments so many times by talking about understanding the neuroscience of how we communicate and how music can play with that. Thank you so much for sharing your time and expertise with The Leadership Habit audience. We are so grateful to have you.
Gerald J. Leonard: I’m grateful to be here and thank you for asking me to be here.
Jenn DeWall: Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast. If you enjoyed the conversation, share this with your friends, and help them learn different ways that they can approach leadership. And of course, if you want to connect with Gerald J. Leonard, you can head on over to https://productivityintelligenceinstitute.com/ . There you can connect with him. You can find other valuable resources that he has. And if you found that you love this episode, don’t forget to leave us a review on your favorite podcast streaming service until next time.