0.25 Ways of Working
025 Power Skills
Our Guest This Episode: Gerald J. Leonard
What can we learn from the intriguing parallels between a jazz ensemble and an effective project team? Gerald J. Leonard leverages his dual careers as a professional jazz musician and project management consultant to offer a unique perspective on increasing productivity and fostering a high-performing project team through the integration of music, productivity, workplace culture, and neuroscience. He draws fascinating parallels between building a high-performing project team and assembling a jazz ensemble, demonstrating that music and project management share common principles.
Hear how jazz musicians' reliance on real-time feedback, adaptability, and innovation can be harnessed to propel project teams toward novel problem-solving and inventive solutions. In project management, the ability to adjust and adapt in real-time is crucial to ensure successful project outcomes. Just as jazz musicians push the boundaries of their art, project teams can push the boundaries of conventional problem-solving and come up with inventive and efficient solutions.
An international Keynote Bassist and Culture Change Expert, Gerald J. Leonard is a trailblazer in the quest for maximizing human potential in the workplace. He is the Publishing Editor, CEO, and Founder of the Leonard Productivity Intelligence Institute, where he focuses on enhancing productivity and building better workplace cultures. He is also the CEO of Turnberry Premiere, a strategic project portfolio management and IT governance firm in Washington, DC. Gerald has two degrees in music and is an accomplished bassist. He is also an IT project management consultant.
Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:
"...it’s like playing jazz where things are moving quickly, meeting every day, ...So things are happening really rapidly, and they can adjust because the customers say, “Hey, I don’t want that. Let’s move to this one. I want this requirement now.” And you have to move and adjust. Well, that’s like playing jazz. Again, the song is moving pretty quickly. So everyone has to, one, know their part, but also really lean in and listen."
"And you think about project management, even with agile project management, there’s a pattern. There’s a cadence. Daily scrum meetings on every two weeks after you have your reviews; right? ... And so there is a structure and a pattern to the process, and it’s the same way in music."
The podcast by project managers for project managers. Learn from the intriguing parallels between a jazz ensemble and an effective project team. Gerald J. Leonard demonstrates that music and project management share common principles as he offers a unique perspective on fostering a high-performing project team through the integration of music, productivity, workplace culture, and neuroscience.
01:41 … Combining Jazz and Project Management
05:12 … Gerald the Author
07:31 … Incorporating Jazz and Project Management
09:39 … A Cadence to Managing Projects
11:50 … Recognizing the Traits
13:57 … Mentoring and Coaching
14:52 … Kevin and Kyle
16:10 … Jazz and Productivity
20:01 … Gerald’s Recovery Story
23:04 … The Pomodoro Technique and Flow
26:03 … Motivation and Accountability
31:23 … Employee Burnout
34:33 … Getting into the Right Rhythm
36:08 … Contact Gerald
37:42 … Closing
GERALD LEONARD: …it’s like playing jazz where things are moving quickly, meeting every day, things are happening. Every two weeks you’re delivering something. So things are happening really rapidly, and they can adjust because the customers say, “Hey, I don’t want that. Let’s move to this one. I want this requirement now.” And you have to move and adjust. Well, that’s like playing jazz. Again, the song is moving pretty quickly. So everyone has to, one, know their part, but also really lean in and listen.
WENDY GROUNDS: Welcome, fellow project champions, to Manage This! I’m Wendy Grounds, and joining me in the harmonious studio adventure today is Bill Yates, and Danny Brewer, our sound guy.
Hold onto your project plans, because today we’re diving headfirst into a fusion of beats and business. You heard it right – jazz and project management are about to collide in a symphony of ideas with a trailblazing maestro of maximizing potential, Gerald J. Leonard.
Gerald is an IT project management consultant; but he also has two degrees in music and is an accomplished bass guitarist. As a professional bassist, he uses jazz metaphors to illustrate how to build supportive and effective team cultures. Creating successful projects and high-performing teams is much like building a jazz ensemble.
This isn’t your average podcast – it’s a symphony of ideas, where project management meets the jazzed-up art of success. So, buckle up, hit play, and let the show begin!
Hi, Gerald. Welcome to Manage This. Thank you so much for being our guest.
GERALD LEONARD: Wendy and Bill, thank you so much for having me. I’m really happy to be here.
WENDY GROUNDS: Can you tell us, just as an introduction, how you’ve combined your dual careers as a professional jazz musician and as a project management consultant?
GERALD LEONARD: Yes. I had done my bachelor’s and master’s in music, studied through the Manhattan School of Music with a gentleman at Juilliard, and played professionally in the city. And then I did some ministry work back in the ‘80s, ‘90s, and I wanted to get back into music, but now I was married with two kids.
I was kind of done with clubs and those kinds of things and thought, “Okay, so how can I keep playing and also make a good living and raise my kids?” So I got into IT at a time where, if you could spell IT, they were letting you in. And so I got in. You know, and I had my master’s already, so I thought, “I’m not going to go back to school for another degree.” And then I realized they had all these certifications out there, the Novell certifications, the Microsoft certifications, the MCSE certifications, and all these different things like that. So I just started going that route.
That led me to a place where for years I was doing project work, became a project management consultant with a number of different companies, did work for the National Archives and major corporations, helping them at the enterprise level. And then I would go and play shows, or I’d play a concert, or I’d play a recital. And I started noticing that sometimes I’d go into a gig, and I have no idea who the musicians are. After the second rehearsal, we’re all best friends, we’re hanging out, we’re showing each other’s family pictures, and we’re talking about our careers and where we went to school, and we’re just connected emotionally.
And there are a number of projects that I was on. I remember one with the National Archives, we had a great team together. And I thought that this is like playing jazz. This is like playing music because everyone on the team, the developers, the business analysts, the testers and so on, me as the project consultant, we all kind of brought our expertise to the table.
And working with a gentleman named Larry Hines, his name’s popped in my head. He was like the executive sponsor, our main audience, and he gave us the big picture of what we were trying to accomplish, and everyone just kind of subjugated their expertise to the focus of making this a great project.
It actually turned out to be a really, really great project back in the day with the National Archives when they were doing, like, an electronic archiving system.
So that started the germination for me of seeing how music and what I’d learned as a kid playing music and all the things I’ve learned as a musician were being applied into my business world. And then after that, all the other projects, there were elements of the vibe, or a feeling like I was playing music or a feeling like I’m working with other musicians.
Then I’d go do music, and I was able to take the things that I was working with from business and apply them to my music so I was like running more efficient rehearsals or more profitable concerts and so on. So it just all kind of tied together, basically culminated into me and around 2015 meeting with a gentleman named Dr. Willie Jolley and his wife Dee.
Willie’s one of the top five speakers in the world when it comes to motivational speaking. Dee had her master’s in education.
And I went to them for like a weekend workshop. They honed in and said, “You know, you really help companies with their culture. And at that time, the song “All About That Bass” was out. And Willie said, “If you could write a book and incorporate your bass with your consulting,” and he’s just, “Man, you’re going to make millions, do amazing work.”
I took that idea, and over time that book became “Culture is the Bass.” You let that settle. Just think about your favorite song where you’re kind of like bopping your head and listening to it. When it starts off, you hear the drums and the bass. And that bass sets the tone for is it rock? Is it funk? Is it R&B? Or is it country? What is it? You can tell right off the bat based on the bass line.
And I always thought you walk into Nordstrom, or you go shop on Amazon, or you go into your favorite local store, it has a vibe. It has a feel. And there’s something about it that you like that keeps bringing you back. It’s the culture, which is kind of like the bass line. And so my second book turned out to be “Workplace Jazz” because a lot of work went from really large project teams back in the day.
I mean, sometimes you’d go on a consulting engagement. There’s 20 people, and companies were paying for it. And pretty soon it whittled down to where you go on a consulting engagement, and there’s three of you. Or there’s four of you. And it’s like, we’re it, guys. We’ve got to make this thing work. We’re the quartet. Right? So that book was about what I learned from playing in small ensembles, and how it would mimic the concept of agile work as a project manager.
And then in 2015 I wrote a course, because I had done some work with the Center of Medicare & Medicaid Services where I helped oversee two major programs in project management where we did certification courses. And so I then wrote a course for myself to take the PfMP certification because I already had my PMP, the Project Management Professional Certification, and I had already spent my 10 years doing it, and I wanted the top certification, which is the Project Portfolio Management. I had been doing that work for a while. But at that time there were very few books around that are courses. So I wrote my own course and took the exam and passed it.
And so a lot of my material now is based on that. And in fact my last book, which was a business novel, called “A Symphony of Choices,” where a bass player becomes the orchestra manager and has to manage the orchestra. So he reaches out to an old professor to teach him how to do that. And the old professor, Dr. Carl Richardson, teaches him my course in small bites, all about Project Portfolio Management, decision-making, workplace engagement, and project management. And basically mentorship saved a concert season
BILL YATES: That is so cool. Well, I feel like we’ve got a sense for who you are. And your right brain and your left brain are at 100%. They are kicking along, man. This is so cool. So we want to go deeper into this topic of music and draw on the parallel of music and project management. What are the key benefits of incorporating jazz music into project management practices?
GERALD LEONARD: Well, you know, when you listen to jazz, what you’ll notice is that they always start off with some kind of a melody; right? And it may be a short melody, maybe a blues type of melody. But they have this theme of music, right, that they keep coming back to. But then once they play that, one of the musicians steps forward, and they start soloing.
And soloing is simply, they’re not just like making this stuff up. They understand the patterns of what they’re playing against. They understand what they’re playing and how it correlates to what’s being played. And so they’re giving their own interpretation of the melody and how they’re feeling at that time. The rest of the musicians are understanding that, okay, it’s the saxophone player’s time to solo. So we’re going to lean in, we’re going to listen, and wherever he wants to take this song, we’re going to go with it.
So you think about agile work. You have scrum meetings, you know, you kind of come together for about 15 minutes. What are you working on? What are you doing? What’s happening? Any impediments? And then depending on where you are in the project or the lifecycle of that effort, it may be the QA person’s time to stand up and solo because the development work is done. Now the QA team is actually leading. So they’re the ones who are soloing. And what does the developer do? What does the project manager do? What does the business analyst do? They all lean in and support that QA person to make sure that they have what they need.
To me, it’s like playing jazz where things are moving quickly, meeting every day, things are happening. Every two weeks you’re delivering something, and they can adjust because the customers say, “Hey, I don’t want that. Let’s move to this one. I want this requirement now.” And you have to move and adjust. Well, that’s like playing jazz. Again, the song is moving pretty quickly. So everyone has to, one, know their part, but also really lean in and listen.
BILL YATES: Okay. That’s so good. You’re looking at Bill. He’s got no music acumen. I mean, you know, if a note hits me in the head, I don’t know what just hit me. I don’t know if it’s a B flat, a G flat, I don’t know. This has always intrigued me because I love jazz music. How do the soloists know when it’s their turn? And then we’re going to flip that around and go, okay, you know, in terms of project scheduling, how do we as a team decide when do those solos need to occur? When do we need to be backing up particular endeavors or activities? So how do you know?
GERALD LEONARD: Exactly. So there is a pattern. There’s a cadence. Let’s say the song is a 12-bar blues, and it’s counting one, two, three, four, one, two. So okay, you count 12 of those. That’s the song. And so now let’s say the saxophone player’s going to solo. He has maybe 12 or 24 bars that he’s going to solo. So everybody knows that. They know the pattern of the song, and they know he’s going to solo, and they know that for this four bars it’s going to be in this key, then it’s going to move to this key and move to that key. So they understand the structure.
And you think about project management, even with agile project management, there’s a pattern. There’s a cadence. Daily scrum meetings on every two weeks after you have your reviews; right? You have your ceremonies and so on. And so there is a structure and a pattern to the process, and it’s the same way in music.
It was interesting when I went from playing music to getting into IT, picking up the computer. In 1994, I knew nothing about a computer. ‘95, I had read probably about 10 books and then was now working for Xerox, doing some consulting. It was like picking up an instrument because music is very logical, and it’s very structured.
Again, this is a pet peeve of mine, but when it comes to schools, I think when they say, “Oh, the budgets are tight, let’s cut music,” I’m like, “No!” Because kids are enjoying that process, but it’s teaching them, and it’s programming their brains to understand logic, to understand patterns. I wouldn’t be who I am now if it hadn’t been for what I learned as a kid in music.
BILL YATES: Yeah. Music and math, there’s such a strong connection.
GERALD LEONARD: There really, really is.
BILL YATES: So let me ask a follow-up question on this. When you think of jazz ensembles that are top performers, and then you think of some of the project teams that you’ve had experience with that also were top performers, were there some parallels or some common traits in those team members that made the team stand out?
GERALD LEONARD: Sure. In fact, my book “Workplace Jazz” has a nine-step framework that’s all about that. And what I talk about in there are what are the traits? And so I’m not going to mention all nine of them, but it starts with you as a musician. You are constantly woodshedding. You’re constantly working on yourself. You’re constantly improving. Great project team members are constantly trying to get better. If they’re a developer, they’re constantly trying to work on being a better developer. They’re going to conferences. They’re going to webinars. Or they’re reading the books.
If you’re a project manager, you’re going to the seminars, you’re going to the classes, you’re taking classes, you’re getting mentored, you’re constantly working yourself. Next thing is your attitude. And this is critical. Imagine going to a concert where you’ve paid nowadays hundreds of dollars. It used to be $20, $30. Now it’s hundreds of dollars. And the band doesn’t like each other. The singer’s upset. The band doesn’t like each other.
Nobody in the band wants to look at each other, but they’re playing the song perfectly, but there’s no passion. I mean, you’re like, I want my money back; right? That’s what you would say. And it’s all about positivity. It’s all about the mindset. So for groups that are working together as professionals in project management, that positivity and that mindset really does set the tone of whether it’s going to create momentum and do great work, or is it going to be we’re hitting the right notes, but this stinks?
Now, the other thing is this whole idea of visualizing. Musicians visualize the performance. They visualize what is it we’re trying to accomplish. In small groups, you have to have a charter. You have to have your Kanban board of activities. You’re visualizing the work. You’re visualizing the flow. So visualization becomes a part of it. Visualization captures your conscious and your non-conscious mind as well as it stimulates your brain to produce positive neurochemicals.
The other thing is I would say mentoring and coaching. You know, in a band, you always have a band leader. Now the band leader may be the bass player or may be the drummer. Art Blakey in the Jazz Messengers, he had so many people come through his band, but he was the drummer, and he was the leader of the band. But he was always in the back, and everybody on solo. He did, as well, but he was the one that was setting the tempo and the standard for the musician. Because they had a leader that set the pace, they had somebody to follow. Well, this has to be the same way in business that, if you have a project team, there is going to be a leader in that group.
And if the leader is, like, constantly on the edge of continuously improving, getting better, doing things, speaking, writing seminars or so on, that’s going to stand out. And the other folks that are coming on the team, it’s going to make them want to come in and be better. So there’s so many different things that are attributes that are in common.
KEVIN RONEY: Finding a successful introverted leader in an extroverted workplace is quite a paradox that challenges conventional expectations. While the workplace may thrive on high-energy, social interactions, the introverted leader possesses a unique set of qualities …or superpower… that allow them to excel in their role.
KYLE CROWE: The introverts’ reflective nature enables them to carefully listen and observe to gain valuable insights into their team’s dynamics and individual strengths. Introverts tend to prioritize deep connections and meaningful conversations and foster an environment where team members feel valued and understood.
KEVIN RONEY: On the flip side, leading introverted team members requires a thoughtful and adaptable approach that respects their unique strengths and preferences. Introverts tend to thrive in more quiet situations and they may prefer to process information internally before sharing their thoughts. Leaders should try to encourage a mix of collaboration and independent work on teams, to accommodate the needs of both introverted and extroverted team members.
KYLE CROWE: A mark of true leadership is defined by the ability to empower others. If you’d like to learn more, Velociteach offers an excellent course by Dr. Jennifer Kahnweiler called THE INTROVERTED LEADER: LEADING A TEAM IN TODAY’S EXTROVERTED WORKPLACE. In this course, Jennifer draws upon the latest research, stories, and humor to demonstrate how organizations can harness natural quiet strengths. You will learn how to bring out the best in you and in the team you support.
WENDY GROUNDS: Talk to us a little bit about productivity, how jazz can help with productivity in a team?
GERALD LEONARD: Well, you know, with productivity, again, if you take the concepts of a musician, they’re working on themselves. And one of the things about musicians is they love feedback. They want feedback from the audience. And they want feedback from the other musicians. They play something, they’re kind of looking at the guy, hey, did you like that? Did you not like that? Am I going the right direction? If they’re working on getting better, they’re going to get a coach.
And I look at it this way, mentorship and coaching is like being in the HOV lane of life in your career. You ever get stuck in traffic, and you’re by yourself? It’s like, it’s going to take me two hours to get home now. But if I had somebody with me, I could get in the HOV lane, I’d be home in 15 minutes. Doggone it, why didn’t I have somebody with me?
Well, that’s how life is when it comes to mentoring and coaching. So whether a musician and you’re getting mentored and coached around productivity, or you’re in the business world around productivity. And productivity isn’t about how many hours can you work, how fast can you work, how hard can you work? Because a musician can’t do that. The best musicians perform, play, and then they take breaks. Because you know, horn players, they have to take breaks. String player, you have to give your hand a break. You know, you have to give your body time to process what you just did, especially if you’re learning something tricky.
Well, we don’t think to do that in the business world. We just think, we’ve got this project we’ve got to do. We’ve got to work around the clock, we got to get it done, and people are coming in, drinking their coffee, blah, blah, blah. And then the work comes out, and it’s not the sharpest piece of work that we’ve ever done. And the reason being is it’s physiology. Our brains only have so much capacity when it comes to our conscious mind. When it comes to our non-conscious mind, our brains have almost endless capacity.
So think of it this way. The conscious mind, if you put your feet together, and draw a circle around your feet, that’s the size of your conscious mind. It has a, let’s say a bucket size of capacity of what it can handle.
Your non-conscious mind, the part of your brain that runs your body, runs all your involuntary systems and everything else and holds all your memories and whatnot, if you put a dot in the middle of your feet and then go out 11 miles and draw a circle around you, that’s the size of your non-conscious mind. It’s like a trillion to one. So if I’m just working, working, working and using my conscious mind, pretty soon I’m going to fill the bucket up, and pretty much nothing else is going to get in. And I’m going to be trying to keep working, and I’m going to burn myself out.
And you can tell because either you start getting sick all the time, you’re always stressed, you have body aches, you always have headaches, you know, you’re just kind of having a lot of negative thoughts. Your body is now being filled with stress, going to eventually break down. And that actually happened to me. And I’ll tell you about that in a second.
But if you focus on working hard for a little bit, take a break, allow your non-conscious mind to process everything you’ve done and then go back, now you’ve refreshed your conscious mind, and now you’re working better. And so I think when it comes to project teams, having endless meetings one after the other is detrimental to the team, is detrimental to your own health, is detrimental to your physiology. We need to have a meeting. Take a break.
I’ve had two podcasts today. In between, I took a break. I have a piano. I played some piano. And I made some phone calls. You know, I did other things other than the work that I’m doing right now so that when I came back to have our conversation, I’m so much more refreshed. I have two more meetings after this, but I’ve spaced them out in my schedule because I know I need time to let go, do something different, allow my brain to process.
And here’s what I mean by the story. In 2018, I had a major bout with vertigo. It happened six weeks before a TEDx talk that I was to deliver. Long story short, it wasn’t the normal kind of vertigo. I was rushed to the hospital. They had to give me some kind of IV to make it stop. I was in the hospital for a day and a half. When I was released, at that time my ex-wife had to get a walker because I had lost the ability to walk. Now, six weeks from now, I was supposed to be delivering a TEDx talk. And so I’m lying in bed. I can’t look at my laptop. I’m still a consultant, but I hadn’t worked that whole week. I’m like, “This is my life. What’s going to happen here?”
And I start thinking about my TEDx, and it was called “Practices of Performance: Falling in Love with Music.” And really, the underlying theme of it was the neuroscience of music. One quote was, “As a musician, when you play music, the brain gets so active that if there’s damage, it’ll rewire itself.” So as soon as I could get up, I made it to my office, grabbed my bass, and I played for a little bit. I did it every day.
And within three weeks, I was able to walk into my doctor’s office unassisted. Three weeks later, I walked onstage, and I delivered my TEDx talk. But it actually left me with a vestibular imbalance. I don’t call it a disability. I call it a constraint.
And by calling it a constraint, I look at it and go, okay, what can I do to take advantage of this constraint to be more effective than I was before while at the same time really taking care of myself? Now I do yoga. I write out my goals the night before what I want to get done. I usually have three to four or five things on a day I want to get done besides my meetings.
So how do I do it?
I’ve learned things like the Pomodoro Techniques. I’ve learned the neuroscience of productivity. And I’ve learned how my body works, how my brain works. And so now it’s how do I tune what I’m doing so that I can get the most important things done using the least amount of effort? Portfolio management. I do portfolio management on myself personally every day. What three or four things that I can do every day that’s going to move my company, move my business, move my life forward using the least amount of resources while taking care of the rest while running the business, growing the business, and transforming the business, which is my life.
BILL YATES: Thank you, Gerald, so much for sharing all that. I really appreciate your transparency. For project managers that are listening, I really want them to hear from the application that you’re making, the same way that I would not expect a musician to play the saxophone part perfectly for two hours straight because of the fatigue, right, the mental and physical fatigue, I should not expect to be able to drive my team just countless hours and expect the same amount of productivity, no errors, something that’s going to be accepted the first time by the client.
We have got to hit a rhythm that’s sustainable, that includes breaks, chances to refresh, to your point for today’s schedule. You know, you did something intense, you stepped away and did something that refreshes you, and then you stepped back into something that’s intense.
GERALD LEONARD: Exactly.
BILL YATES: We have to hit that with our teams.
GERALD LEONARD: That is called the Pomodoro Technique. And the Pomodoro Technique, the science behind that is based on the concept of “Deep Work”; right?
BILL YATES: Great book.
GERALD LEONARD: And so the idea is you take a critical thing that you’re working on and forget about multitasking because that’s, you know, that’s a fallacy. It doesn’t work because our brains only single task. So if we think we’re multitasking, your brain is just working really fast on one thing, stops, and then goes to do something else. But it takes you about 23 minutes of processing time before you’re really back engaged with what you’re doing. So you’re constantly switching. You’re never really engaged. You never get into flow.
So to get into flow, which happens to musicians all the time, where you’re playing or you’re engaged and time like stands still, and you’re just like, “Oh my goodness, where did time go?” That’s called flow. That’s where you’re at your most creative. The only way to do that in business is use the Pomodoro Technique. Set a clock, a timer. Set it for 25 minutes. Turn off everything else. Focus on that activity.
If it’s a document, if it’s coding, if it’s a requirement specification, whatever that is, focus on that item for 25 minutes. When that clock goes off, stop where you are, make a note, get up for 10 minutes, go do something else. Go walk outside, go walk the dog, go pick up the dress, go check for the mail. Or if you’re in the office, go down the hall, have a conversation. Again, go downstairs and come upstairs. Do something, anything.
Here’s the thing. When you do that, your brain says, “Okay, we just had an exhaustive sprint.” It starts saying, “Okay, I need to refresh.” So now the non-conscious takes over and helps the brain to refresh. And it takes all that you’ve taken in, and it begins to categorize it and process it so that now, when you’re back, all that information is now, you’ve kind of emptied out the RAM, and you’ve saved it to the hard drive. So now when you go back, you have a clean slate, you’re fresh. You’re like, “Let’s go back at it again.”
And there’s things that you can do in the middle of that. Again, with going through what I went through, I learned things about brain gems, the Qigong, energy management. I learned things around tapping, the emotional freedom technique, things where you are able to release stress.
I studied heart math, and I actually have a little device where you can get your body in coherence. And so even if you have three minutes between a meeting, and you just stop and put your hand over your heart and take deep breaths for three minutes, that gets your brain, your heart, and your internal organs in coherence, meaning they’re oscillating at the same frequency. That refreshes your body.
Now I’m ready to go back in, and I’m much more refreshed. I can handle it, again, because I’ve given myself back the capacity that I need. Otherwise it’s like I poured myself a cup of coffee, and the coffee jar is full, but I’m going to keep pouring. All you’re going to do is burn your hand, and you’re not going to drink the coffee.
BILL YATES: You just referenced two books that I’m a big fan of, too, “Flow” and “Deep Work.” Excellent stuff.
GERALD LEONARD: Yeah, those are amazing books.
WENDY GROUNDS: If we look at the teams, if you’re a project manager, and you have a team that maybe is struggling with motivation, and you’re struggling to really get accountability amongst your team members, how can a project manager motivate their team, get that accountability and yet not micromanage them?
GERALD LEONARD: So again, here’s another exercise and an actual thing that I did. I learned it from another book, and I actually met the author. I met her online before she passed away. Her name was Judith Glaser. She wrote the book “Conversational Intelligence.” Once I read the book, I studied with her for two years with a program that she was running before she passed away and became certified in conversational intelligence, which is the neuroscience of conversations.
Here’s where I’m going with that.
In the program, she teaches an exercise called Rules of Engagement. So if you have a team that is just totally dysfunctional, things are not working, the last thing they need to hear is that there’s a problem. You know, words are very powerful and words create worlds. So if I walk to you and say, “We have a problem,” okay, so now your brain is going to the back and your amygdala is kicked in, cortisol and adrenaline is starting to flow, and you’re kind of brassing up, and now you’re doing all the defensive things, and I just set up your physiology to not work with me at all.
So I had a team one time with one of my clients, and I said, okay, things are not going so well. And I didn’t say it to them. And I knew what was happening. So I said, okay, guys, we’re going to have a meeting. Leave your laptops where we were co-locating. And you can do it virtually, as well. We got into a room, and I said, “Okay, I want you to take a sticky note or a pack of sticky notes, and I want you to write down three to five to seven or eight things that were positive attributes of a previous team that you were a part of that you loved, and you hated that they broke up. What were those things that you loved about that team?”
So one, I just put them in a position to start producing positive neurochemicals because they’re thinking about all the positive things and team that they love. They’re looking at the faces of the people, and they’re remembering the situations that made it fun. So they’re writing down these ideas. So they look up, and they’re still kind of in a funky mood because they’re looking at everybody who they don’t like right now. We got a whiteboard in front of us, and I call to each one and say, okay, take your sticky notes and put them on the board. And if someone comes behind you, and they have the same word, put your sticky note on top of theirs.
So the first person came up and they shared, you know, it was integrity. It was fun, it was this, it was that. And all these are values or attributes. So the next person comes up and, lo and behold, about seven of the things that they wrote down are the same as the first person. So they look at each other like, okay, maybe you’re not so bad. And then the next person, they may only have five things, and there’s a couple of outliers. And you have the conversation. Why did you choose those? What was about that? What does that mean? And what does that mean to you?
So now everyone’s brains are now starting to produce these positive neurochemicals, oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. And so by the time you finish the exercise, they’re looking at an infinity diagram that they just created of values that they value. And they realize that, as a team, we have more in common than we have different.
So instead of trying to change the conversation, you’re changing the neurochemistry, and you’re getting people to focus on the positive things that they want in their life and the positivity that they’ve had, and the positivity of the people in the room with them that they may believe that they thought, well, we don’t have the same things.
And when the team saw that, the team transformed. They became a different group to work with. They never saw each other the same. And they couldn’t look at each other and then go, well, you’re not like, well, you are like me. You do value what I value. And they found ways to kind of connect and communicate. And it transformed the project. But if I would have went in and said, “Guys, we have a problem, this team is not working, you guys are this, and we’ve got to fix this problem,” all you’re doing is creating all of the negative neurochemicals; right? You’re putting them in a state of defensiveness. They’re pushing back. Their amygdala’s triggered. They’re thinking fight, flight, freeze, or appease. And you’re not going to get anywhere with that team.
When you see musicians work together, and they’re playing, and they have their eyes closed, but they’re connected, and they’re like talking with each other almost in a non-conscious way, it’s because conversations are much more chemical than they are verbal. Because when we start a conversation, even our conversation, if we like this conversation, and you walk away saying, man, that was really good, I learned so much, this is great, that’s because your brain is producing all these positive neurochemicals, and it’s creating a bond even within this short period of time.
But if it came across where, you know, I’m kind of trying to be arrogant, and I’m a smarty person, and I’m this and that, and, you know, I kind of do stuff that makes you upset, man, you’re going to walk away feeling like, oh, that was horrible. No, that’s not good. Okay. Because now your brain is producing all the negatives. And it happens within 0.7 seconds of a conversation. So as leaders, we have to be more focused on what is the neurochemistry that I’m creating with my team? Because if I can change the neurochemistry of a team, I can change that team, irregardless of who those people are.
WENDY GROUNDS: So my last question for you to do with how jazz works into project management is what about employee burnout? It’s become such a problem. What can we do for our employees when they’re facing burnout?
GERALD LEONARD: We can teach them a lot of these concepts; right? Because they’re burning out because of either the work that we’re putting on them or expectations that we’re putting on them. And a lot of it is that they’re dealing with their life. They’re dealing with personal life, they’re dealing with outside challenges, and they’re dealing with work challenges. And so it really starts with how you think. Here’s how I work with myself and with my teams. I share with my teams what I do on a regular basis. When I wake up, I do yoga. Did I do yoga before the vertigo thing happened? No, I did not.
But I realized that one of the main issues with burnout is that anytime you have a stressful situation, your body takes that in. And it’s actually embedded somewhere in your physiology, in your muscles, in your neck, in your spine, in your legs, in your body. That’s why you wake up, and you’re like, “Oh, I’m so tired. I’m so, ugh, my neck. Oh, I’ve got a headache.” You need to get that stress out. So I do yoga in the morning for 15 minutes, and I stretch my body to release tension in the spine, and so on. Then I take time to just sit still and meditate. Just quiet time to meditate.
Why? Because, you know, if the first thing you turn on is the news, I’ve got to catch up on the news, I’ve got to check out email, you’re not giving yourself time to walk into and prepare for the day. You’re just inundating yourself with more stress. Stress is like taking a shower, and then when you’re done, you don’t wring out the rag. You set it back up. And then so when you get it next time, it’s still soaking wet. No, you got to wring it out so that all that excess water is gone, and that’s what happens with our body.
So if we’re doing that on a day-to-day basis, pretty soon we get to a place where something happens on the outside, an event happens, we have time to respond because now we’re not being driven from a very stressful response. We’re being driven from a place that we feel like we have some control.
By you setting the pace and then teaching your team just these simple concepts which are not high level or very sophisticated things, but also teaching them things like the Pomodoro Technique, teaching them how to prioritize their schedules, teaching them even in the morning stand-ups, you can say, “Make sure, if this is what you’re going to work on, how Pomodoros are you going to do to get that done? How many do you think?
What’s a Pomodoro? Oh, let me tell you. Work in sprints. Take a break, and I want you to tell me tomorrow how many Pomodoros did it take for you to get that work done.”
So you’re letting them know, I expect you to work in a very smart manner. Don’t work on this until you’re, like passing out. Because after that first hour, if you’re still going, and you haven’t taken a break, you don’t have the capacity to provide good work. And if you want your team to do great work, you have to have that time, that ebb and flow. Because our bodies literally have a 90-minute cycle of where energy flows. And if we understand that, we can get the most out of our physiology. If we don’t, then we tend to burn out.
BILL YATES: Gerald, just last week I gave a presentation to a group on time management, and a lot of it was on productivity. One of the statistics that I shared with the group was we check our phones 144 times a day on average. And I was just thinking, your conscious decision about how you’re going to start your day is so positive and good. Many of us, I would say, immediately turn on our phone and see what did we miss in the last six or eight hours while we were sleeping. And then we’re just getting into the cycle of, you know, we’re going there for our dopamine.
GERALD LEONARD: Exactly. That’s exactly what happens. That becomes a dopamine hit where you look at it, and it feels good. Next thing you know, I’m not even sure why I’m looking at it, but I’m just, I’m still doing it. Because our brains produce these chemicals, these drugs, and we get addicted to our own drugs.
BILL YATES: And it’s so important, you know, the 25 minutes of focused productivity that we’re talking about. You know, that’s why my phone needs to go in another room or needs to be at least turned over so it’s not as enticing because I need to focus.
GERALD LEONARD: Right. And it takes time. It takes time to kind of get into that rhythm. But once you do that, and you start seeing your to-do list turn over like an inventory list, where you’re just cranking through your to-dos, and you’re actually getting work done, and you’re getting the most important work done, you get addicted to that.
Like now I can’t riff, I don’t have a to-do list of the five things I’m working on and have a plan of how I’m going to carry it out. I’m like, something’s wrong, because you need to build that into your physiology so that, one, you don’t get put in a place where you’re constantly firefighting and burning out.
WENDY GROUNDS: Gerald, if our listeners want to talk to you, they want to learn more about your work, where can they go?
GERALD LEONARD: They can go to my website, productivityintelligenceinstitute.com/managethis. In fact, I’ve created a dedicated page for your listeners where they can find a weekly evaluation worksheet that I created called the Productivity Smarts Weekly Evaluation Worksheet. There’s also a handbook, and I identify six things that have to be a part of a project to be done well.
And whether it’s project management or even your own goals, many of our goals have multiple steps. We’re all project managers. And so it’s a handbook where I teach those concepts. It also references a lot of my new book where there’s chapters in that that can help you, but you can get a lot of value out of it without having to purchase the book. And then I have a place where, if you want to have a 30-minute call and just have a conversation to learn more about some of the programs and courses and things that I do, you can jump on the call with me, as well.
WENDY GROUNDS: We’ll put links in the transcript so people can find them.
BILL YATES: Gerald, thank you so much. This has been such an intriguing conversation. Wendy and I have been looking forward to this for a long time, Gerald, because the intersection of music, math, and project management is so obvious to us. And seeing what makes an ensemble, a quartet, a band that we just admire, seeing what makes them click and then seeing what we can learn from that and apply to our project teams, that’s just magic to us. So thank you for sharing that.
GERALD LEONARD: Excellent. You’re welcome. I’m really happy to be here.
WENDY GROUNDS: That’s it for us here on Manage This. Thank you for joining us. Please visit us at Velociteach.com, where you can subscribe to our show, and you can see a complete transcript of the show.
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