Jazz and leadership

Jazz and leadership?

Our Board of Management participated in a Jazz Leadership workshop. What did they learn, you ask? Plenty. Read on to see how the day unfolded and what, after all, is the connection between Jazz and Leadership.

Text: Katja Alaja Photo: Katariina Salmi

They snap their fingers to the rhythm, and tune themselves to a 12-bar blues and the basic form of jazz. These eager learners are no other than members of our Board of Management. Javier Cavada, head of Energy Solutions and Marco Wirén, CFO are all smiles.

Welcome to the Jazz Leadership Workshop conducted at our headquarters. This is in cooperation with Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts. The idea is to learn about leadership in a modern world, as Patrick Furu, facilitator, Professor of Management and Organisation at Hanken School of Economics, puts it. Furu has studied the dynamics of jazz as part of organisational theory since 1990’s and he believes jazz band serves well to underline some key principles of management in an inspiring way.

Furu first asks the five-person band comprising four students and Jari Perkiömäki, facilitator, saxophonist and Rector of the University of the Arts, to play according to a new strategy and bring some variation to the swing.

Pianist Toomas Keski-Säntti and bassist Joonas Tuuri start. Drummer Aleksi Heinola slowly joins in, followed by saxophonist Adele Sauros with their rector, Perkiömäki They play fluently together and let each other shine in solos, although they play together for the first time in their life.

“Where did that beautiful melody come from?” Perkiömäki asks Sauros (after the piece is played).

“I just played what I heard in the moment. It is based on 12-bar blues, but that is it,” Sauros replies.

“That is one the fundamentals in jazz: you implement the ideas right away, on the spot,” the rector interprets.
   
    

Strong individuals in strong teams

One of the most interesting moments comes when Jaakko Eskola, the CEO, requests each band member to play on a different strategy. The band agrees to stick to 12-bars, but each starts from a different chord.

The jazz sounds messy and somewhat aggressive, and the saxophone overrules other instruments. Eskola, a saxophonist himself, gives high value to paying attention to others, while also being clear about his own melody. This is also instrumental in his leadership style at Wärtsilä.

“Strategy is crucial for any organisation to succeed. It has to be shared and put into practice, and that requires extensive communication and collaboration,” facilitator Furu says.

The final demonstration presents two versions of the world-renowned children’s song, ‘Old MacDonald’. The band plays the first version very traditionally following the sheet music, and the second one is pure improvisation. Then it is time for the management team to reflect upon. Second version raises many thoughts.

“The band agreed quickly how to play and chose Bossa Nova. It was important to have a clear game plan,” notes Atte Palomäki, head of Communications & Branding.

Päivi Castrén, head of Human Resources, points at the dialogue and interaction between players. Kari Hietanen, head of Corporate Relations and Legal, asks what happens if the playing goes awry and a musician wants to help a colleague get back on track.

“Every player has his ways. Drums are loud so I can give strong signals with them,” Heinola explains. The other players resort to subtler signals.

Marco Ryan, Chief Digital Officer, mentions trust. “The band had clear trust towards each other. It is all about communications, individuality, showing what one can do and blending it all together.”

The discussion naturally flows to applying the principles in corporate life. While Eskola points out the complexity of a global, multicultural enterprise and stresses the need to set the direction with a common vision, Perkiömäki reflects upon personal experiences.

“Connecting people’s own goals with those of the company is the basis of an open and responsible culture.”
     
   

Key takeaways

“Leadership with impact is important for all of us at Wärtsilä. This session was all about applying the key principles of leadership in a simple but very creative way,” Pierpaolo Barbone, head of Services, states.

“Day-to-day management is much about improvisation to the situation at hand. To do that effectively, you must be clear about the direction. Then you can channel the team energy effectively,” Palomäki adds.

After the session, the facilitators Perkiömäk and Furu are seemingly pleased for the active participation of Wärtsilä’s executives. They have worked with diverse groups over the years, from corporations to the Finnish national basketball team. To them, the Wärtsilä executive team appears to play well, together.

How about the students then? Joonas on the base was impressed about the thoughts Wärtsilä’s management brought out. He thinks he can apply what he learned during the interactions. Sauros on the sax says, she hadn’t earlier realised how much the players actually support each other.

“The biggest revelation to me is to respect other’s ideas and at the same time be open to sharing my own ideas with others,” Sauros says.

That seems to be the golden rule.

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