Sonny Rollins is probably the greatest tenor saxophone player in all of jazz. His journey from a novice 8 year-old player to today owes as much to effort as talent. His life illustrates how technique “trumps” scheme when it comes to building any capacity including leadership. But what is technique and what is scheme? The Oxford dictionary defines them this way:
- Scheme: A a large-scale plan or arrangement for attaining some particular object or putting a particular idea into effect.
- Technique: A way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution or performance of an artistic work, a scientific or business procedure.
Said another way; technique is craft.
Back to Sonny. At age 29 with multiple successful albums to his name, Rollins took a three-year sabbatical from performing and recording. He spent those three years practicing 15 hours a day under the Williamsburg Bridge on the lower eastside of Manhattan. Rain or shine. Playing the scales, improving his fingering and breathing technique. All this so he would be more competent and improvisational in performances. His return to public performing was marked out by his album The Bridge. A collection of jazz tunes still considered a master class on the saxophone.
I know. You or I do not have 15 hours to practice anything. My small soapbox here is that most leaders have enough strategy but not enough technique when it comes to mobilizing people to address wicked problems like COVID19. Building Rollins-like technique requires a practice. Below are some technique building practice elements.
- Start Small: select one leadership capacity you would like to develop. Just make sure it is a talent, gift or potential you have that you will build your capacity to lead. Begin with just one capacity focus.
- The Angel is in the detail: Read a book, get a coach, study someone you respect. Ask questions and get granular. There is no detail too small to ignore. It is important to understand all that it will take to master this capacity.
- Take it to the Arena: Locate opportunities to exercise your technique inside your daily work activities. You can usually see meetings, people or situations on your calendar that present an opportunity to “practice.” Be prepared, not surprised.
- Speed of the response: You will stumble and fall. Leadership development grace is found in the speed of the response after the fall.
- Feedback Baby: There is no high performance without timely feedback. Chase feedback. You will accelerate your pace of development.
- Support & Coach: Get your team into the act. Help people design their own practices, coach them and acknowledge their progress.
- Capacity first, oil leaks second: We all have oil leaks, we have been working on them for years and we are better now then before. Start with your undeveloped capacities. Things you do pretty well but doing it better would make impact. You will find developmental momentum with this approach.
Leading is a choice and an action. We will never be perfect, but we stand a better chance of being effective if we follow a practice that builds our techniques through action.
Find your Williamsburg Bridge and start practicing.