I can pluck out a tune right around middle C on a piano. Maybe I use 10-12 of the keys?

I can see all 88 keys, but I don’t really know how to incorporate them to play a piece of music – even if the information is right in front of me on sheet music. I have to admit that I gravitate to the parts that make sense to me at my current level of understanding. In most cases I don’t know what I don’t know, even though there is a vast amount of information encoded in the songbook staring me in the face.

How often are we leading teams, trying to decipher how to play beautiful music, with less than 88 keys?

A friend once mentioned this analogy as a definition of personal growth. We already have everything we need. We don’t need to BE more or GET more – we need to be able to access and use more of what’s within us. We don’t need more keys. We need to learn to play the keys right in front of us.

Students of piano start by reading music. Leaders start by reading too – they learn to read situations and people. Did you know that there are accompanying piano parts for almost every other instrument’s solo music? The strongest leaders have the capacity, like pianists, to play well with others.

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” – BB King

What about chords?

Chords are made by playing multiple notes at the same time. And using similar terminology for leadership, let’s face it – some decisions are major and some are minor, some ideas are sharp and some fall flat. Hitting different notes at the same time requires a certain amount of coordination that can be even trickier when things start to move fast. I’ve learned to reference the three notes that make up a chord for leaders as vision, alignment and execution.

Are there some people who are musically inclined?

Sure. But everyone can grow their skills markedly with study, practice, reflection and commitment. Likewise, some leaders have a natural insight that makes their leadership look easier. Like playing piano, leadership is also a skill that can be improved. Practice doesn’t make perfect though. Practice makes permanent. It’s important to be sure we practice with a form that we can expand effectively into more complicated situations.

People practice piano because, on some level, they are passionate about the beauty of creating music. They appreciate, not only what they create, but who they become in the process. And like all musicians, they take great care of their instrument too, as it’s the means by which they share the music. Leaders practice because they are also passionate about what they create, as well as how it benefits others. They should, in a similar way, appreciate what not only the goal, but who they are becoming in the process. Taking care of their teams is critical, because that’s the means by which they execute their vision.

“The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Ultimately, improving the world around us requires our willingness to improve ourselves at the same time.

The bigger our dreams, the closer we are to needing all 88 keys. And if you only rely on what you’ve always known and done, you may disappointed to find your leadership improves at the same rate as my piano playing. Whether your vision is brand new or one you’ve been pursuing for some time, know that the baby grand and the grand pianos all have 88 keys!