Harnessing Your Inner Musician

Music has a power that is hard to explain. A single song can bring the hardest, most stubborn person to the point of tears, while sending another into an encouraged state of action. In tackling the beauty and mystery of music, the great Danish author and poet Hans Christian Anderson once said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” Moreover, there are certain attributes that music creators have that are powerful, and harnessing these traits can actually help you be a more effective leader. But don’t worry; you don’t have to pull out your old six-string and play Beatles songs by the water cooler to lead like a musician.

The Multitasking Brain

Whether you enjoy listening to classical piano music or 8Os shred metal, there is one common characteristic between the two: the pianist and the guitarist are multitasking. Usually, when we hear the term multitasking, our minds go to the thought of texting, sending emails, and getting on social networking sites while working. But no, these musicians aren’t texting their band mates. They’re multitasking by using both hands to complete different tasks. While taking the listener through a story with a beautiful melody with the right hand, the pianist is playing walking bass lines with the left. The same goes for the guitarist. While sweeping through face-melting scales using the left hand, the guitarist is simultaneously navigating each string with the right, picking hand.

This well-trained skill can be extremely useful for the emerging leader. Most people are constantly juggling multiple priorities in their life. With work, school, family, and friends all pulling from different directions, it’s important to know how to multitask. But as a leader, it’s important to balance your own work with the needs of your teammates. You can’t disregard your own issues by solely focusing on your workers. Still the same, if you disregard your employees’ issues, engagement will suffer immensely. As a musician uses both hands to complete two separate tasks, a leader must focus on a broader sense of multitasking like balancing the needs of you and your team to ensure high productivity and low burn-out.

The Two-Sided Brain

Most music lovers view musicians as purely creative people who mainly use the right side of their brain, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. According to research by Vanderbilt University psychologists, professionally trained musicians use both sides of their frontal cortex more than the average person. With the right side of the brain associated with creativity and the left with logic, the psychologists offered an interesting explanation. Bradley Folley of Vanderbilt University said that musicians have to be great at reading musical symbols, analyzing them, and simultaneously “integrating the written music with their own interpretation.”

Not every action in life can be easily divided into two categories: that which require originality and that which require orthodoxy. Just as the musician uses both sides of the brain to convert notes on a page to a melody in our ear, the effective leader uses experience and knowledge to create new and sometimes unorthodox ways of promoting innovation within an organization. Without constantly feeding the analytical side of the brain with new information, the creative side doesn’t have the headroom to develop engagement in the workplace.

The Divergent Brain

Divergent thinking is explained as a process to a solution that generally begins with exploring all possible solutions, while convergent thinking is focused on coming up with a well-established answer to a problem. The Vanderbilt study also examined how a group of non-musicians and another group of professionally trained musicians performed certain tasks. When asked to identify new uses for everyday objects, the musicians invented more interesting and novel uses for the objects.

Even though most education is geared toward cognitive thinking – multiple-choice tests, fact-based lessons, etc. – these results show it’s imperative to lead with more of a divergent brain. Problems that arise don’t always have simple solutions. There often are multiple avenues that will take your organization in completely different directions. Harness this style of thinking common among musicians to come up with different ways to handle a problem and then analyze each one to find which best suits your team. One way to effectively engage in divergent problem solving is to brainstorm with a diverse group. When brainstorming, some ideas may arise that obviously won’t work. Don’t dismiss them. Who knows, maybe they will lead to another solution you hadn’t thought of.

Harness Your Inner Musician

The art of music is that of a constantly changing and developing landscape. Though trends and styles come and go, the land itself remains the same. Its dirt and roots are the chord progressions and song structure. Its rivers and trees are the melodies. And, its flowers and fruits are the lyrics. All come together to create something special that everyone can learn from by dissecting its parts. Musicians have a leg up on certain skills that are congruent to achieving success in the business place. Take a cue from their balanced thinking and harness your inner musician to become a stronger, more effective leader.

Have you had success in using a musician’s style of thinking? Has music helped you grow as a leader? Let us know in the comments section below!

One Response to Harnessing Your Inner Musician

  1. Brian Sutherland June 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    I love it, and I’m going to be using parts of this article in an upcoming presentation for a Master’s class on English for students of other languages and if/how musicians learn languages easier and why. Thanks for posting.

    And you posted it on my birthday!!! ALSO AWESOME.


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