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The Sound of Leadership

By Larry Gennari
Boston Business Journal
October 28,2022

This fall, former rock climber and current billionaire Yvon Chouinard announced that he was giving everything away. Patagonia, the iconic outdoor clothing company Choinard founded almost 50 years ago, soon will be owned by a uniquely structured nonprofit trust that will use future profits to fight climate change.

“Instead of ‘going public’,” Choinard explained, “we’re going purpose.’”

For some executives, this was music to their ears. In fact, for many, this is exactly how leaders should sound and what they should do in a post-pandemic, more purpose-driven business world. So, what can a thoughtful executive do to prepare for the turbulence and tension that comes with wanting to do well while also doing good? As usual, you can start with a few good books, but this time, only after listening to a few great songs.

Wait — which songs? Well, that’s entirely and uniquely up to you, according to neuroscientists Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas, authors of the new and wonderful book, This Is What It Sounds Like: What The Music You Love Says About You. Your taste in music and why you prefer jazz over reggae, or punk over classic rock, can reveal a lot about how your one and only brain works, and in turn, how your style, originality, and personality influence everything you do and the experiences you want to have — as a person, as a leader, and in the world. Want to know more about someone else? Ask about their favorite songs. Rogers, a faculty member at Berklee College of Music and one of the most successful female record producers of all time, knows a lot about the music business and the leadership values of creativity, grit, and challenging convention. Her work as Prince’s chief sound engineer for Purple Rain and her stints as producer for Barenaked Ladies and many others ground her many incisive observations about human cognition. Rogers belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and this book belongs in your library.

So, will knowing why I like classical music will help me be a better leader? Quite possibly, according to Wharton Dean Erika James and Simmons University President Lynn Wooten, authors of the smart, practical new book, The Prepared Leader. Self-awareness and preparation are critical for today’s mission-driven leaders who need to strike a balance among profits, people, and planet. Seeing crisis as opportunity isn’t easy, but James and Wooten thoughtfully frame the necessary skills. In fact, they point out, prepared leadership can be a lot like jazz, the music genre reflecting the most collaboration and improvisation, with leadership rotating as the music/circumstance flows and changes.

Indeed, leaders who can more deeply hear their own music also can more capably communicate, inspire, and make sustainable change. A useful guide for that discernment is The Answer is You: A Guidebook To Creating A Life Full Of Impact, by Alex Amouyel, executive director of MIT’s Solve Initiative. This is a rich, deep, and thoughtful book for both emerging and established leaders who want to solve real problems using their own distinct “superpowers.” Amouyel encourages intentional thinking, noting that “your life and your potential impact are more than just your job” and that we are all diminished when we define ourselves by our title rather than our talents. HBS Professor George Serafeim sees this mindset too and in his new book, Purpose + Profit: How Business Can Lift Up The World, he tells leaders that they can and should deploy their own skills and knowledge to improve the world. The purpose and focus of business is changing from a model of shareholder primacy toward a broader expectation that companies contribute to society. Serafeim provides plenty of data and lots of examples of how companies and investors can implement purpose driven initiatives to attract and motivate employees, broaden strategy to include constituencies, and build sustainable competitive advantage.  Entrepreneurs launching B corporations and experienced leaders trying to figure out where to start will find this to be an incredibly helpful and hopeful book.

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