Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Leading and Listening

It's been awhile since I've checked in.  Busy with work.   Also, in my personal life, learning how to play the drums.  I am obsessed.  I have always wanted to learn, and finally decided I was going to do it.

First off, it is way harder than it looks (maybe that is age-related.)  It is amazing to me how you can play one beat pattern, but change just one thing (a different beat on the base drum, move from high-hat cymbal to a tomb drum) and it is like a whole new experience.   What is really interesting to me, is that learning to play the drums is a metaphor for leadership.  Hang with me as I explain.

Right now, I am struggling with sixteenth notes (especially on the bass drum).  When I play the notes on the snare, no problem.  When I play the notes on the snare and the bass drum, no problem.  When I try to put it all together with the high-hat, problem.

There is something about the high-hat that makes my brain think the beat pattern is not balanced.  It has something to do with the sound.  It just doesn't sound right to me. I cannot allow myself to HEAR the correct pattern.

I was talking about this to someone and started to air drum the beat as if I was playing the snare drum.  Then, I moved my hands as if I was playing the snare and high-hat--suddenly my brain clicked in--IT WAS THE SAME THING! Taking away the sound made it easier for my brain to understand the mechanics of the whole thing.

I realized that this is what my friend, Hazel Simonette, means when she says "you have to lean into the listening."  In order for me to understand the beat pattern, I needed to take out the sound of the high-hat.  Then I could understand the pattern.  Once I could get my head around the pattern, I was able to play the beat pattern using the high-hat cymbal.  Why?  Because I was able to hear it.

How many times do we encounter this situation in our leadership work?  We need to figure out how to filter out the noise that makes it difficult for us for to listen.  In "Community:  The Structure of Belonging," Peter Block talks about the art of leadership.  Leaders create a context that nurtures an alternative future; initiate and convene conversations that shift people's experience; listen and pay attention.

The ability to listen is a key leadership skill.  What do we need to do to improve this skill?  The drum lesson works for me; helps me understand what I need to to do to "lean into the listening."  What's your metaphor?

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