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  • Writer's pictureTonic Consulting Group

Who's Your Role Model



One of the most difficult things for leaders these days is to create “thinking time” – to plan, to strategize and most importantly, to work on becoming better versions of themselves.

There’s a concept in art about learning by stealing from your role models. You try to replicate what they’ve created in order to learn, but ultimately your voice is going to come through because, well, you are you.

This can be applied to business by having a role model and understanding what they’re doing or have done, trying it on for size and ultimately developing your own voice as a leader.

When I was an emerging agency leader, I found it difficult relating to the acknowledged business thought leaders. In those days you couldn’t turn a page without hearing from Jack Welch or Tom Peters. Both were publishing, on media being interviewed and regularly on the speaking circuit.

Instead, I found someone who’s role and path I could relate to – jazz band leader and drummer Art Blakey. I’m also a drummer, a jazz fan and I was running a creative business vs. an industrial giant. The lessons I learned from Art guided me through my agency career.

For over 30 years, Art was the leader of The Jazz Messengers. He led a band that was known around the world. In the jazz loving culture of Japan, their arrival in 1961 was on par with the welcome The Beatles later received in the U.S.

What did I learn from Art? Well…..

  • He understood the role of a leader: when to drive the band and when to put a band mate up front. He set the pace and maintained the consistency of the band. But if it’s all about the leader, you have a very shallow organization. He recognized the talent he had and ensured they had the opportunity to be in the spotlight.

  • He understood the value of brand. The Messengers ran from the late 50s until Art’s passing in 1990. During that time, rock and roll, electronic jazz, disco and other musical styles emerged. The Jazz Messengers didn’t follow a new trend but stayed fresh through new band members and new repertoire. As a result, their audience understood what a show was going to be about. Would your clients say the same thing about their experience with your business?

  • The band was a magnet for talent. The Jazz Messengers became known as a flagship “university” for emerging talent – they toured regularly, recorded and members were given the opportunity to write new material for the band. Playing in The Jazz Messengers became a sign that you had arrived, and the band’s alumni is a Who’s Who of jazz: Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Wynton & Branford Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard and hundreds more.

When a band member left, there was the proverbial “line around the block” of musicians ready to audition for the spot. In a business where talent is a critical asset, building an agency known for developing talent with great alumni ensures the next generation of leaders will also be knocking on your door.

Who’s your role model? And if you haven’t adopted this idea, maybe it’s something to consider as you think about your goals for 2024. It can be an opportunity to look at your business - and yourself – through a different lens.

And if you’d like to learn more about Art Blakey, here’s a link to his page at Blue Note Records https://www.bluenote.com/artist/art-blakey/

Tonic Consulting Group works with live event agencies and related companies providing the insights, expertise and direction necessary to create enduring competitive advantage. We work with leaders to build new pathways to growth, create high-performing operations and develop companies people love working for.

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