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managing Right Effectively

by | Feb 8, 2022 | Benny Goodman, manage, Right vs Effective

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managing Effectively often doesn’t come from Right…

“Don’t be ridiculous. I have just invested $15 Million dollars in your development. Now get back to work”. With that, the young executive exited the CEO’s office with his letter of resignation torn in half and handed to him. He had gone from one of the top executives in the company to losing the current equivalent of $200 Million dollars. Thankfully not me, but that investment Rightly paid off as he was our Executive… and an outstanding and Effective manager 25 years later when I joined his team in Houston.

To win the business for BART, he had decided to bid the project Fixed Price – that is, we will deliver what you have specified for this price and schedule. The problems started almost immediately. The technology from the Research Division didn’t actually work or scale-up. The requirements kept changing weekly. But most importantly, the team was accustomed to a “Cost Plus” Federal Business… where the profits go up as you drive up costs. It is neither the Right nor the Effective stance for a commercial contract…

… but Right can eventually come from it…

Benny noticed that the other Big Bands were slowly disbanding around him, the casualty of the Depression really taking hold, and also the cost structure. He had more reserves than others, plus the support of Hammond and Columbia Records to begin the pivot to smaller, what we now call “jazz quartets”. That evening encounter with Teddy Wilson was the catalyst for Benny to begin to look at different approaches to making music, and thus started the ball rolling on desegregating music.

Teddy Wilson was like me a fellow native Texan, born in Austin in 1912. He studied piano and violin at Tuskegee Institute before moving to New York to work with Speed Webb, Louis Armstrong, and Earl “Fatha” Hines. John Hammond helped him land a contract with Brunswick Records, which then had him playing with all of the great swing musicians of the era – Lester Young, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, before he was introduced to Benny Goodman.

Knowing that having him on stage with the full group would break the law, Benny had him play – just off stage – during “intermission”. While the rest of the band would take a break, Benny, Teddy, and Gene Krupa would play some small trio “jazz” that was different from the swing music. Teddy easily would mimic the notes that Benny was improvising, and it is said that they had such a tight connection that both would make the same changes without even looking at each other. Krupa was the solid backup to keep them all together, and those recordings are some of the best of the era. And with this sleight of hand, they Effectively were able to get around the Jim Crow laws across the south as he was technically not on stage…

Effective will eventually manage to show up…

From his role on that program, he eventually landed in Houston where there was a small IBM installation that provided some one-off hardware to the Apollo and Skylab missions. As discussions of the Space Shuttle started in the late ’60s, one of his supporters had risen to Lab Director of the large hardware facility in upstate New York. That long-time relationship helped him back into leading the winning proposal for the onboard computer systems. He had then been, at best, the Account Executive for managing “the customer” (NASA Johnson) from Houston, with a very small team… less than 50 for over 10 years. They could limit his role, but they couldn’t limit his vision – particularly for Effectively seeing how to win the Space Station, which was barely a sketch in the mid-’70s.

He built the case for a team that could tackle what would be the contract for the computers for the Space Station. This business case in 1975 included investing in new hires, which ultimately was one of the 3 positions I was now in, and I was now leading the investigation of new technology for space computers. A reader asked me “why did these executives listen to you?” I think in many ways my brash, headstrong approach reminded them of themselves. And, he specifically would manage me pretty directly, often not very much fun, but very Effective.

Who Effectively manages you Right?

Sneaking Teddy on stage was the first stone to drop into the pool of moving music to be more integrated. My exec was similarly nudging me to realize that letting other groups manage this project, while not Right, was going to be more Effective. It was a short leash, and one I chafed against, but many years later, I understood it differently. I had some similar brash direct reports that were amazing, and also not terribly Effective. I had to manage their “Right” towards something that was useful for all. Not knowing which side of that conversation you are on (maybe both), what would help you step back and realize the management practice that integrates these 2 paradoxes together? One of their first recordings together is the Right soundtrack for an Effective contemplation of what it would take …. Oh Lady, Be Good.

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