How Jazz Music Prepared Me for Life as a CEO

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Last week, I found myself in an Italian restaurant playing improvised jazz music with a few other musicians. Despite what it may seem, I’m not a full-time musician. I’m actually the CEO of a big data startup, a far cry from my moonlight musical gig.


But while I was playing, I couldn’t help but connect the two roles. On paper, CEOs and jazz musicians may seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum and seem to have very little in common. We think the executives are stiff, driven and very professional, while the musicians seem to be laid back and more free-spirited.

Related: 7 Risks Every Entrepreneur Must Take

However, I believe there are many similarities between the two:

Ready to take risks.

First, being an entrepreneur is inherently risky, and it’s an unpredictable road to travel; you never know how it will turn out. You know it’s an adventurous business and you’re determined to succeed. The same can be said with jazz music. When the band starts jamming, they never know exactly how it’s going to end. They trust their instincts, their skills, and their fellow musicians, and then go for it.

Goal mania.

Both musicians and CEOs have an unwavering drive to succeed and both know that the way to get there is to surround yourself with the right people. In my band, for example, I want to surround myself with the most competent and complementary musicians I can find so that we sound the best. The same can be said in the corporate world. For a business to succeed, it needs quality people that a leader can trust to do their job. It only takes one person to negatively impact the “sound” and throw the rest of the team off course.

Related: It’s Your Vision: Help Them See It

Vision adjustment.

All CEOs and entrepreneurs have a distinct vision of where they want their business to go. The same goes for musicians. Therefore, it is extremely important to communicate this vision from the start to ensure that your employees (and fellow musicians) are all on the same page. When everyone is rallied around a defined goal, the path to that goal is simpler and achievable.

Lean on resources.

As I mentioned earlier, surrounding yourself with the right people is one of the most important steps an entrepreneur (and a musician) can take. When the right people are in place, a CEO can foster a culture of trust because everyone has the necessary capabilities. This type of environment ultimately allows employees to perform at their best.

The result of the group is always greater than the sum of the individual parts.

My musical training helped me understand that there are very few things we should try to control in work and in life. When I play jazz, I always know what the finished product will sound like, but I never really know what exactly will happen. I trust my own training and that of my bandmates and relax and let it be. It’s a lesson I’ve carried over into my life as a CEO. Sure, as a CEO, it’s hard to give up control, but I realized what I could control was hiring and vision. After that, you need to foster an environment where your employees can be creative and ultimately make choices while implementing the work that leads to the desired outcome.

Related: 6 Steps to Creating a Culture of Importance from Scratch

Ada J. Kenney