The harmonica is the coolest and most portable instrument in the world. Even a piccolo, the smallest instrument in an orchestra, won’t fit in your pocket. The harp, as blues fans call it, will.
Here are some beneficial lessons from some of the world’s most influential harmonica players, teachers and makers.
Relax and you will do better
Tomlin Leckie notes in his podcast that it’s tempting to think that great harmonica players put a lot of effort into their playing, but that “couldn’t be further from the truth. If you hear a harmonica player with fantastic control and sound, this is just the product of supreme relaxation … in every part of their body …[A]Any source of tension will weaken and refine your tone. So if you want that big fat tone, don’t forget to relax. “
Whatever challenge you face at work right now – an uncomfortable conversation you must have with someone, a new task you take on, a speech you must give – you are more likely to be successful if you are relaxed.
Maybe the problem is you
“If I’m trying to help you learn something and you don’t learn it,” says Joe Filisko, “it is very likely that I did not communicate the information correctly to you as an instructor.
If your team isn’t doing what you want them to do, could the problem be that you haven’t communicated what you want effectively?
Joe told me that if one of his students doesn’t understand the point he is making, Joe simplifies that point and keeps breaking it down until the student understands it.
But this approach to leadership requires humility. If you are willing to admit that a leadership problem you have could be due to you, you are one step closer to effective leadership.
Know your product or service
Lars Seifert, CEO of the world’s oldest harmonica factory, CA SEYDEL SÖHNE in Klingenthal, Germany, commands respect from his staff because he knows how to assemble the instrument himself. The head of the company not only understands how his products work, but can also demonstrate the proper manufacturing technique of each of the many varieties he sells.
There may be practical reasons why you cannot follow suit. No one expects the CEO of a world bank to know how to operate a cashier’s cash machine.
But isn’t it possible for you to find out a little more about the work that each member of your team does? How could you gain more respect if you did?
It takes constant work to excel
Teenager Adam Gussow, academic, musician and pioneer in online music education, learned a transformative lesson that shaped his esteemed career. He was invited to participate in a fundraiser for Save the Children UK and shared the poster with some of the greatest blues, funk and rock players.
He saw behind the scenes how Maceo Parker, James Brown’s legendary saxophonist, trained before the show. “He wasn’t calling her,” Gussow told me. “Anyone who wants to create a myth around a guy like this— ‘He’s naturally talented’ — is deeply mistaken. This is a difficult work.”
Why do the best performing people continue to practice their trade long after reaching a mastery level? The answer is integrated into the question. It is because these leaders continue to work to maintain their excellence.
Know the past if you want to excel in the future
When she was in college, Annie Raines had a friend who made 10 tapes of great blues harmonica players. “Little Walter, Big Walter, Junior Wells, Sonny Boy, George Smith… I listened to these tapes over and over again for years,” she says in an interview on BluesHarmonica.com. This music “got in there and became part of my brain circuits.” You can hear the influence of these past masters in the performance of this current master.
In the same spirit, the second editions of the two Harmonica for Dummies and Blues Harmonica for Dummies through Winslow Yerxa devotes a considerable amount of lyrics to discussing the work of the players who created the first harmonica recordings over 100 years ago. Why spread so much ink on history? This is because our past is a powerful force in shaping our future.
Who are the giants of your field? What are their key works and how would studying these works make you better at what you do? Would it be a good idea to cite some of this work the next time you present to colleagues or write an article on LinkedIn, Twitter, or your blog?
No one is self-taught. Successful leaders know who was successful before them and that it’s smart to keep learning how they did it.
Leadership is about serving others, not yourself
Michael D’Eath, president of the Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica, has successfully led both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses. The leadership of both types of organizations, he told me, should be rooted in altruism. “It’s about everyone, not you,” he said.
The “you” he refers to is both the client or client and everyone who works in the organization. He told me that the best leaders respect other people’s time. “It starts with board meetings,” he said, making sure they don’t last longer than they should be.
“When I call someone,” he added, he likes to start with “Do you have time to talk right now?” It’s a simple thing to say, but it says a lot about your character.
To lead is to serve.
Your values mean nothing if you don’t live them
Greg Jones sells and repairs Seydel harmonicas in the US After blowing a reed on one of my harps (a common rookie mistake) I checked out Greg’s website and was struck by the last one part of his question-and-answer page.
Question: Can you classify my order as a “gift” or underestimate it so that I am not charged taxes?
Answer: I will not lie or make any false statements on any government document. It just doesn’t fit the type of business I want to run.
He’s the kind of person I want to do business with, and I did. Where do you draw the line your Business? Do you let your current and potential customers know where this line is? If not, what are you waiting for?
Enjoy the trip
The Levels of Achievement program on BluesHarmonica.com is structured like the levels in martial arts classes, since its creator, David Barrett, was also a martial artist. I love the challenge of learning the techniques at each level, and by passing the required test I get a nice shiny pin.
Yet in my virtual lessons with him, Barrett politely warns me not to focus on the outcome and to enjoy the trip. Students who see their courses not as a means but as an end in themselves do better in the long run.
One of the most striking aspects of the HBO series Succession this is how little ultra-rich people profit from their wealth. Have you ever seen people who have found so little pleasure in life? The show is an uplifting tale of what can happen when we obsess over a goal and forget to savor the experience of reaching it.
Call to action
It is difficult to dispute the validity of any of the above leadership lessons. But it’s also heartbreaking to think of taking them all to heart.
Why not just choose a work on it for now? Just one. The few minutes you spent reading this article will pay huge dividends if you do.
Note: I focused on the blues harmonica, but this versatile instrument is used in a wide range of musical genres, including country, rock, jazz, and East Asian music, to be sure. name a few.