How to treat your team like a group of talented artists

Leading by example and inspiring others means embodying your company’s vision and its underlying values. Gerald Leonard, author of Workplace Jazz, offers five ways to treat your team like a group of talented artists

Donald Robinson, a Grammy-nominated producer, composer and pianist who worked with Grover Washington Junior – a hugely popular saxophonist often credited as a founder of the smooth jazz genre who collaborated with Bill Withers on Just the Two of Us – called it the ‘burning bus tour’.

Grover’s band was near Denver on its way to the Aspen Jazz Festival. The tour bus was going up and down the mountains. Then one of the brakes started smoking. The band members were sleeping in back while the bus pulled over and the driver ran outside. The band started to stir, hearing the driver hustling around looking for a fire extinguisher. The driver sprayed the tires but they caught on fire. The band, now fully awake, scrambled off the bus.

Turning a bad situation into a good one

It burned down in 10 minutes, just as the sun was rising. By the time the fire department got there, the bus was pretty much gone. Later, some vans arrived to take the band to a retirement home where they waited for transportation to Aspen.

At the retirement home, Grover pulled out his horn and started playing. Then Donald started on an upright piano while the older people were getting up, dancing, and having fun. Grover’s band turned a bad situation into a really good one. The retirement home loved it, and the band loved it.

Leading by example

Finally, the band arrives in Aspen where the air is thin, you have to really control your breathing. Walk a block leaves you winded. Due to the altitude, the concert venue has oxygen tanks on the side of the stage. When you get a little dizzy, you go put the oxygen on, then go back out.

Grover was playing hard, with passion and joy. He’d play, run to the side and grab the oxygen tank, then come back out and play some more. Then more tank. Even though it was difficult, he just kept playing. His stamina and drive was infectious. It kept the whole band energised.

Like Grover, the head of an organisation must lead by example — not only in their vision, but also by demonstrating that vision in action and the underlying values that support the vision.

Five ways to inspire your team

Do you want to inspire your team in the same way that Grover inspired his band? If so, how can you treat your team like a group of talented artists?

1. Provide expert guidance: expert guidance is required when your team seeks growth. They want to be led by someone who has real-world experience as well as strategic and innovative ideas that they have gained from continuous study and working on their craft. Think of going on a safari. Who would you rather have: someone who gives you a brochure or someone who has been there and can show you all the risks, issues and dangers to look out for as well as the beautiful scenery to observe?

2. Share your background and experience with your team: world-class athletes and musicians continuously seek advice from coaches who have a well-rounded background. They find someone who has a lot of coaching experience and who has already worked through and corrected many of the challenges they are facing.

3. Listen, collaborate, and communicate to connect and increase trust: when you are working with an experienced coach, you have someone to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of.  Take advantage of having someone who can help you obtain a different perspective because of their experience and knowledge, which in turn gives you a competitive advantage.

4. Set an example that accelerates the change and performance you want to see: reap the benefits of focusing on things that will make the most significant impact on the change that you are seeking.  By picking a few things to work on you can accelerate the time it takes to achieve your goals.

5. Demonstrate your desire to increase your team’s capacity and capabilities: coaching increases the capacity of the person being coached. It helps them accomplish more and improves their ability to get more done in less time. By having a dedicated professional coach or engaging in peer-to-peer coaching, your team will be able to accomplish more, compared to a team that is not being engaged this way by their manager or leader.

Gerald Leonard is a professional bassist and the CEO at Principles of Execution, (dba Turnberry Premiere) a consulting practice with 20+ years’ experience and past and present clients that include Verizon, Medicare, and Hewlett-Packard (HP). He is the author of Workplace Jazz: How to Improvise and Culture Is The Bass: 7 Steps To Creating High-Performing Teams.

1O lessons every leader can learn from their pets

From resilience to empathy, pets have much to teach their owners and can help people to develop numerous traits that are essential to becoming a successful leader in the 21st century

It is well-known that dogs and other pets bring joy and happiness into our lives but what lessons can business graduates and future leaders learn from their pets?

Lesson 1: resilience and willpower

The path to success is often stormy with huge obstacles that block our way. Often, we are inclined to take the easy way out and simply give up. In contrast, animals don’t give up due to their instinct for survival – even as pets. We should follow their incredible resilience and willpower as this is one of the most important traits of successful leaders.

Lesson 2: positive relationships

Relationships with team and other staff members can make or break a professional career. Owning a pet can enhance our careers and help us climb the corporate ladder. In a 2018 study from Banfield Pet Hospital, 62% of surveyed c-suite executives said that childhood pets had had a positive impact on their ability to build rapport with co-workers and clients; and 79% believed that co-workers with pets were hard workers. When we build great, high-performing teams by having a positive and nurturing relationships with them, the chances of becoming a successful and respected leader increase.

Lesson 3: creativity

Businesses rely not only on leadership and communication skills, but also on creativity. A total of 84% of c-suite executives who grew up with a childhood pet said they were creative in the Banfield Pet Hospital study, and an amazing 77% said they come up with business ideas while walking their dog.

A 2010 paper led by Samuel Gosling of the University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Psychology, meanwhile, found that cat people were 11% more likely to be open than dog people. Openness is a characteristic that is often said to enhance creativity and one secret to business success is to think out of the box, and to innovate and create completely new products or services that appeal to customers.

Lesson 4: conscientiousness

Conscientiousness is a key element of success. Gosling’s research concluded that dog people were more conscientious than cat people. However, owning any pet will increase our conscientiousness by around double compared with non-pet owners, according to a 2011 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Dog people tend to be ‘planners’ – and are likely to be more self-disciplined and have a keen sense of duty. Proper planning in business is essential to avoid unexpected project holes that can be detrimental. Self-discipline is the signature mark of a great leader who serves as a role model for his team.

Lesson 5: non-traditional thinking

Cat people were more likely to be more curious than dog people in the Gosling research. Combined with a tendency to be more open than dog people, cat people have qualities needed for non-traditional thinking. Great leaders do not follow traditional thinking, they have new ideas, look at situations from a different angle and amaze their teams with unexpected points of views.

Lesson 6: being more extrovert

It is well-established that extroverts have it easier in their professional lives and experience greater success than introverts. Pet owners are found to be more extroverted than non-pet owners, according to the aforementioned 2011 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In a 2019 report from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), 51% of participants claimed their pet helps them feel less shy. The Gosling research, meanwhile, found that dog people more extroverted than cat people. Outgoing, enthusiastic and energetic character traits are essential for leaders to express themselves, make deals, convince their customers, and create a formidable team bond.

Lesson 7: communication skills

Communication skills, both verbal and nonverbal, are of utmost importance for leadership and business

success. The easiest way to learn is to observe our animals. In the Banfield Pet Hospital survey, 92% of surveyed c-suite executives said that they learned to pay attention to nonverbal communication from their pets. Pets understand even the slightest hint of our body language. Understanding non-verbal communication in negotiations and in meetings can provide the clue to a successful outcome, as it helps to estimate the reaction of the counterpart. This helps us to improve and clarify our communication, which helps us to become better negotiators and leaders.

Lesson 8: dealing with rejection

Every successful leader must deal with rejection; the higher he climbs, the more rejection he will experience. The 2011 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology study revealed that pet owners deal better with social rejection than people without pets. A 2016 study led by Arcadia University’s Christina Brown, meanwhile, found that momentary feelings of social rejection can be soothed by thinking about a dog, recalling its name, or even simply by having a dog nearby. Therefore, positive thoughts of one’s pet is an immense help towards building a strong shield against rejection. That would explain why so many famous CEOs of big companies are pet lovers.

Lesson 9: dominance

A certain level of dominance is necessary for c-suite executives who get people to carry out their decisions effectively. It has been shown that a preference for dog ownership can elevate a person’s ‘dominance score’ predict a preference for dogs. This might be one reason why the Banfield Pet Hospital survey found that 83% of CEOs and c-suite executives have dogs. No leader can be successful if they are not dominant, but dominance should be used in a positive way to carry out decisions that better the company and team, rather than being used to intimidate team members. 

Lesson 10: empathic leadership

The Banfield Pet Hospital survey also found strong parallels between pet ownership and leadership skills. Some 92% of surveyed c-suite executives attributed pets to having helped them develop the ability to discipline subordinates; and 79% regarded pet ownership as important to developing better organisational skills.

People living with dogs can most easily understand the importance of ‘bio-empathic leadership’, which is the ability to look at things from nature’s point of view. Instead of taking, these leaders give back and help nurture their organisations, as dogs do with their families or packs. This is the kind of leadership we should all strive for. Empathic leaders work towards giving back to their company and not just their own personal success. This kind of leadership regards team members as vital contributors to success and not as interchangeable human resources in an organisational structure and static bureaucracy that doesn’t care about anything beyond its immediate business goals.


Pets can serve as fabulous role models for all leaders and especially for business graduates who are starting out and making their mark in the corporate world. They can help improve both our personal character traits and the leadership skills needed for greater success in our professional lives.

Margit Gabriele Muller is Executive Director and Chief Veterinarian at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital in the United Arab Emirates, and the author of Your Pet, Your Pill. She holds a PhD in veterinary medicine as well as an executive MBA from Strathclyde Business School, Glasgow, Scotland.

The power of purpose: fuelling employees’ motivation

An account of how a walk into the unknown and the plight of late 19th-century farmers in the southern Netherlands provided a powerful means of injecting purpose into employees of Rabobank, from the book Alive at Work  

At some point, we’ve all felt underwhelmed by what we do at work – bored and creatively bankrupt. In these moments, we’ve lost our zest for our jobs and accepted working as a sort of long commute to the weekend. Yet even though we’ve all been there, it can be frustrating when our people aren’t living up to their potential. It’s exasperating when employees are disengaged and don’t seem to view their work as meaningful. It can be hard to remember that employees don’t usually succumb to these negative responses for a lack of trying. They want to feel motivated. They seek meaning from their jobs.

But their organisations are letting them down. We can do a much better job at maintaining their engagement with their work. But first, we need to understand that employees’ lack of engagement isn’t really a motivational problem. It’s a biological one. Here’s the thing: many organisations are deactivating the part of employees’ brains called the ‘seeking systems’. Our seeking systems create the natural impulse to explore our worlds, learn about our environments, and extract meaning from our circumstances. When we follow the urges of our seeking systems, they release dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to motivation and pleasure – that makes us want to explore more.

With small but consequential nudges and interventions from leaders, it’s possible to activate employees’ seeking systems by encouraging them to play to their strengths, experiment, and feel a sense of purpose.

The power of purpose

One of the triggers that activates the seeking system is purpose. Purpose is energising. It lights up our systems and gives us that jolt of dopamine. But because purpose is personal and emotional, it is difficult for leaders to instill it in others. It’s one thing to read about something in a business book and another to put it into practice. So how do we create the feeling of purpose and make sure it lasts? To have a shot at success, you need to help employees witness their impact on others, as the case of Rick Garrelfs shows.

Rick, who was a leader at Rabobank for 18 years, told me about an experience he developed to help high-potential employees understand the meaning of their work. Working with a consulting organisation, Garrelfs and his team told the 60 employees: ‘At 5am, be at Eindhoven [a city in the northern part of the Netherlands] Central station.’ They did not divulge any further information to the participants, which naturally caused some curiosity and concerns. Some of the people called and protested: ‘But the trains are not running at 5am’ or ‘I live far away, so I will need a hotel.’ The team responded to these concerns by saying: ‘Yes, that is correct’ to retain the mystery.

People started arriving at the station from 4:30am, and the team made sure the café was open and coffee and rolls were available. Around 5:15am, Garrelfs started walking from the station (the group followed naturally at that point) into a waiting coach, which took them on a 30-minute drive into the dark, away from town. The bus stopped, the group exited and started walking into the fields, with Garrelfs in front with a light, and someone from the consulting firm with a light at the rear.

After 30 minutes, they arrived at a line of trees, where they saw a man standing with a candle. As the group gathered around him, still in the dark of early morning, the man started to speak about the situation of farmers in the late 19th century in the southern Netherlands. He spoke about the farmers’ daily problems, their poverty, and the harshness of their existence. He described how the Dutch priest, Pater Gerlacus van den Elsen, used his local influence to bring farmers together, so that those that had some money could lend it to those that didn’t for investment.

As the man spoke, the sun slowly started to light the scene – the landscape and the group of people – and the group recognised the speaker. He was Bert Mertens, Senior Executive of Cooperative Affairs and Governance of Rabobank, and a direct report to the executive board. Bert was seen as the ‘conscience’ of cooperative thinking in the bank. His core message: Rabobank emerged from the misery of farmers, and we should never forget that.

Bert then walked the group across the farm fields, to a house where they were served breakfast by the farmers, who were long-time members of Rabobank. The farmers talked about the life of farming now, the difficulty of keeping a medium-sized farm alive, and what they did to make ends meet.

Although this had only been the start of the first day of a programme, years later the participants picked out this particular moment as perhaps the most important experience for them in terms of understanding the meaning of Rabobank.

Changing the way employees think and feel about their work

It is one thing for a leader to talk in a meeting about the mission of connecting banking to agriculture. This can be logical and strategic, and a leader can even put pictures of farms on the PowerPoint deck. It is another thing to have a personal experience: to walk in the fields, to connect with nature in the early morning, to eat and talk with the farmers who you serve as a bank.

Imagine how this firsthand experience could change employees’ stories about why they do what they do, and how it might help newcomers fashion their own purpose story. This sense of purpose could help employees make decisions that align with Rabobank’s purpose, but also help them see their work as something worth doing.

This is the power of purpose: it activates the seeking system and makes life feel better. When we understand the powerful humanistic results of purpose – not to mention the economic benefits of building purpose into businesses – then our quest as leaders changes. Our mission moves from ‘how can I make this job more efficient, predictable, and controlled?’ to ‘how can I give my team firsthand experiences that allow them to personalise the meaning of their work?’ This is a powerful new way to think about employment – as a chance to light up employees’ seeking systems instead of shutting them down.

This is an edited excerpt from Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do by Dan Cable (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018).

Why should anyone be led by you? Know yourself and show yourself

Leadership begins with you – and you will not succeed as a leader unless you have some sense of who you are. Your colleagues – potential followers – have a simple but basic need: they want to be led by a person, not by a corporate apparatchik, say Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones

It is unlikely that you will be able to inspire, arouse, excite, or motivate people unless you can show them who you are, what you stand for, and what you can and cannot do.

To be yourself, you must know yourself and show yourself— enough. Put another way, you must be sufficiently self-aware and also prepared to self-declare.

Comfort with origins is one aspect of people who combine self-awareness with the ability to disclose. Whatever the complexities of the cultural variation, we have been consistently struck by the ways in which effective leaders can articulate the relationship between where they came from and who they are.

For example, Patti Cazzato, a senior executive working with retailing giant Gap at the time we met, is from rural Kansas. In her job she has to deal with sophisticated, urban New York designers. Patti told us that when she began these working relationships, she felt slightly overawed by the encounters—as if she were still wearing Kansas dust on her clothes. She felt gauche and inhibited among her new colleagues. It took a trip back to her roots for her to rediscover herself and bring her own authenticity back into her leadership: to be herself in the new context.

As individuals move through life, they experience mobility—social and geographical, within and between organizations, across and up and down hierarchies. And this experience of mobility can disrupt an individual’s sense of self.

Our observation of effective leaders is that as well as being comfortable with their origins, they are also at ease with mobility. They take themselves with them to new contexts. They adapt, of course, but they retain their authenticity in the new situation.

If comfort with origins and ease with mobility help with authenticity, how can aspiring leaders grow these capabilities? What follows is a list of pragmatic suggestions.

Seek out new experiences and new contexts

This can involve changes as small as seeking to lead outside your function or as large as seeking to lead in an entirely different context. We interviewed a tough CFO who worked in a drug rehab unit on a one-month sabbatical. He reported that it forced him to reexamine his own leadership behaviours and to reconnect with his fundamental values. One critical characteristic here is that his hierarchical position as CFO meant nothing in the new context. There was just him and those he sought to lead and help. A corollary of this is that to develop self-knowledge, you should avoid comfort zones and routines. Developing self-knowledge requires active experimentation. Routines, in and of themselves, inhibit this experimentation drive.

Get honest feedback

Effective leaders seek out sources of straight feedback. We have had very good results from carefully collected workplace feedback (including 360degree feedback). But there is also a role for coaches who can give an external perspective. But perhaps the best feedback comes from honest colleagues and those who know us best: our family and friends.

Explore biography

Many of the leaders we have both interviewed and observed have had a deep and intimate knowledge of the contexts that made them what they are. Explore these; talk to others who may share the same experiences. Self-knowledge grows from coming to terms with the events that make us what we are.

Return to roots

Patti Cazzato’s trip back to Texas reinforced the sense of self. Spend time with people who know you without the trappings of organizational power.

Find a third place.

The American writer Ray Oldenburg has put forward the convincing argument that after work and family, we all need a third place: somewhere we can make associations and develop a sense of self, freed from the obligations of work and family roles.

Not all of these will work for everyone; try to find techniques that help you. But if you cannot develop a refined awareness of what works for you, then your abilities as a leader will be limited. After all, knowing yourself, being yourself, and disclosing yourself are vital ingredients of effective leadership.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?: What It Takes to be an Authentic Leader by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.

Rob Goffee is Professor of Organizational Behaviour at London Business School

Gareth Jones has alternated between academic and corporate roles, teaching at LBS too, and also the University of East Anglia, Henley, INSEAD, and currently, IE Business School, in Madrid. He has held senior HR roles at Polygram and the BBC.

Future-proofing your organisation: developing well-rounded leaders

Many organisations have created a talent base that is skilled in a narrow area of expertise, but not prepared for upper management

In a 2017 post for AMBITION, Juliette Alban-Metcalfe talks about developing a learning culture in organisations, stating: ‘We can’t afford to maintain the silos we’ve built up and ignored for years.’ In this statement, she challenges us as learning and development professionals to address a very important issue, developing well-rounded leaders.

For years, we have helped people develop expertise around specific jobs. However, the need to expand the knowledge, skills, and abilities of our future leaders is often neglected. We’ve created a talent base that is skilled in a narrow area of expertise, but not prepared for upper management.

It is said that by 2030, baby boomers will be completely out of the workforce. So we, as L&D departments and professionals, need quickly to rectify the silos of specialists we’ve created by broadening the role-specific training of the past in order to address the workforce needs of the future. 

Our challenge is to develop a new generation of company leaders capable of making well-rounded and well-informed decisions. So what types of things should we be helping employees to learn, and how?

Many employees don’t know the strategy of their organisation. They are so focused on their individual job that they miss the big picture.

Competitor knowledge is something we’ve seen particularly lacking. People get caught short in being able to ‘sell’ their products and services as the best choice in comparison to their competitors. In an ideal world, all employees would understand their company mission, vision, strategy, and competitive advantage.

Few individuals understand their company’s business model, and how it makes money. Understanding how the company makes money helps individuals make better decisions regarding expenditure, negotiations, investments, and more. 

Continuous improvement is a concept that every individual should embrace. There is always a better way to do something and each individual should be responsible for ensuring that their job is done in the most logical, efficient and ethical manner. Continuous improvement helps a company make incremental improvements over time, and achieve ‘breakthrough’ improvements.

A stakeholder is someone with a positon on a topic, so they can be anyone. Knowing who the stakeholders are helps employees to ‘see the big picture’ and make better decisions.

The next question is: ‘How do we help employees acquire this kind of knowledge and skill?’ Knowing and doing are different things. Also, learning opportunities need to be structured to ensure real-world, on the job experiences.  

One idea that is rarely used is job rotation. Anyone who aspires to lead in an organisation should work in at least three different areas of the business. 

Unfortunately, most companies reserve their rotational programmes for ‘high potentials’. A better approach would be to create an immersion programme for all employees, so that everyone has a more rounded view of the organisation. This will help in retention as well as educating employees about their role.

Most people leave an organisation because they feel there is no growth or advancement for them. But what if they were able to identify their own future role? Participating in a rotational programme could inspire them to contribute to the organisation in many ways.

Organisations must focus on developing well-rounded individuals who can take the organisation into the future. The future success of our companies depends on it. 

Nanette Miner is the Founder and Managing Consultant for The Training Doctor, LLC, a learning design firm.

Why old business paradigms no longer work

The way we do business is changing. As a result, that the old paradigm of ‘win-lose’ is dying out, and anyone still operating in this way looks set to become obsolete. 

Our ability to survive this shift depends on our skill at adapting to the environment – the basis of Evolutionary Theory. 

Survival of the fittest is not about being the strongest, biggest or fastest, but it is about what is the best ‘fit’ for the environment. When the environment changes, the fittest adapt, they are the survivors. 

You might think that if a company isn’t in the business of creating something that can be digitalised, they don’t need to worry. You’d be wrong. In the cultural evolution of our time, organisations need to be aware of the changes so they don’t disappear.

Every era of humanity has cultural shifts where the mass population decides that something previously ignored is no longer acceptable, such as the trafficking of slaves. As we advance as a society, the overlooked become something the majority of the developed world disapproves of. 

Now, the vast accumulation of wealth, without consideration for others, is on the list of activities that are no longer acceptable.

The next phase of humanity is about being decent. It’s about knowing we are consistently doing right by other people – and ourselves. If you think this is just limited to political opinions and parenting, think again. 

The businesses who fail to acknowledge this shift, from win-lose to win-win, will fail to survive and those that are among the first, will thrive. It’s about clearly demonstrating your commitment to being a force for good – in your company, your community, and on your planet. That in itself is a beautiful opportunity, where you can create a lot more than monetary wealth, get to raise kids who aren’t embarrassed by your unethical policies, are proud of what you do, and don’t have to be begged to visit your deathbed to hear your dying regrets.  

This is why you have to pass all your decisions through the win-win filter.

It has to be from the inside-out, because the way you treat your employees, your investors, your customers, and the planet, is increasingly related to your profitability.

At the very centre of a true win-win is honesty, absolute transparency, and open communication. Those who can approach business with honesty in order to create genuine win / win outcomes, are the fittest, and they will survive. Applying this outlook to every situation may take some time at first, but it gets easier with practice – and it will ensure that your decisions are future friendly, and allow you to shift smoothly into this new paradigm of business.

Michelle Lowbridge is an author of numerous books, and a business owner.