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Contemporary issues in managing
Contemporary issues in managing

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Music improvisation and Collective Leadership

The collective leadership places a great emphasis on people working together toward a shared objective. Each individual in the team will use their unique talents and skills to contribute to this objective. One place to study the realities and generic features of collective leadership is through the study of musical improvisation.

Activity 9 Collective leadership through improvisation

Timing: Allow around 30 minutes for this activity

In this activity, you are going to watch an illustration of collective leadership through an example of musical improvisation. It involves different musicians playing together without any score or detailed plan.

Video 4 Improvisation
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How does this improvisation work? Based on your experience, how do you relate it to collective leadership in an organisational context?

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This is an example of jazz improvisation with Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins. Even though the musicians had not planned in detail what they would play before starting, as in any improvisation, they were able to come up with a coherent and beautiful piece of music. They were able to learn quickly from each other as they had no pre-established idea of what they would play. However, they did not start from nothing as both already knew each other and therefore had some idea about their musical styles and where they could go – each of them knew it was highly unlikely one of them would play any music totally disconnected from jazz which would have made the improvisation much more difficult. Additionally, they were both incredibly skilled in terms of a mastery of their musical instrument. Finally, they were able to listen to each other, build on what the other did, and were collaborative, as opposed to disrupting each other.

In summary, collective leadership corresponds to an emergent phenomenon going beyond formal roles in the music band. Although there was no clear hierarchy, a kind of harmonious order was produced through the musical performance.

The reality of collective leadership, as shown with the example of musical improvisation, can be found in everyday life. Leadership can, therefore, be collective. This contrasts with media representations that only associate leadership with specific individuals such as famous politicians or entrepreneurs.