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Power engagement

by | Feb 21, 2022 | engage, Lester Young, Power

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Where is Power engaged?

A warm handshake and “Thank You” from my exec was worth the long hours it took to win the Space Station contract. What he said next, was not “… and I would like you to work for ____ now to help integrate the teams.” A few of my peers had had the “opportunity” to work for him already, and we had heard about his use of Power in not complimentary terms over weekend beers. Luckily, my own network had offered me a path forward that would give me a front-row seat to what Power really is … and isn’t…

So much of career management is moving “up” to gain more “Power” to control decisions, staffing, direction, etc. Most people assume that more of all of that is helpful and worth the grind to get there. I had already tasted a bit of “victory” by winning the Presidency of my High School… only to realize that is not nearly as much fun as it appeared. As we are considering leadership topics this winter, considering what Power is, isn’t, and what the cost might be is to a good topic to consider next.

And what does it sound like?

And on this Presidents Day, I want to continue our focus on some of the early founders of music, and also one of the most interesting Black musicians on this last week of Black History month. Lester Young was born in 1909 in Mississippi into a musical family headed by a band leader and teacher who encouraged them all to learn music, and make money 😉 At age 5 he sold newspapers and shined shoes, but by age 10 had mastered trumpet, violin and drums and was touring with his family band. Having his father as his bandleader was too much tension and he left for the first time at 18, protesting, playing across the South in Jim Crow territory.

He eventually settled in Kansas City, where Count Basie’s orchestra was based. By this point, he was over 6 feet tall, piercing green eyes, with light complexion and very small feet – size 7. Adding to this striking look, he had settled into playing the Tenor sax as his primary instrument, but holding it always at a jaunty angle across his body. The main approach to most jazz music had started with the Power of Louis Armstrong, and picked up pace with Benny Goodman, and now with the Sax it was dominated by Coleman Hawkins. Music was dense and “full”, particularly of Powerful notes played fast…

Lester had heard something different, started by Bix Beiderbecke and then picked up by the C-melody tenor sax of Frank Trumbauer. A much more melodic approach using fewer notes sprinkled in only as needed – allowing others to fill in beneath and around it, and to allow the listener to anticipate what they wanted to hear. And while he was playing professionally since the early 20’s, this first recording was not until 1936 when… wait for it… John Hammond got this new sound onto his label. The same producer who brought us Benny from a few weeks back also ensured that many would start to hear what eventually would be labeled as a different branch of Jazz – analyzed well in this article.

Could it be in the key of A?

During the project to develop the space-qualified PC, I worked often with a leader in our main facility who was also trying to do innovative things – and it was much harder for him as he was surrounded by 5000 people pulling back against it. In fact, he had just LOST a big bid, and I was calling him to offer my support, and he said “Are you kidding?? We didn’t want to win that. We HAD to bid this one or we couldn’t bid on the next one… but this would have been impossible. The real thing here was to be credible enough but not actually win”. It was clear that he had a very long-range view of Power, and that, in fact, would soon land him a role as the Administrative Assistant to our Division President – a very Powerful position we could simply call the AA.

engaging with Power

As we start out this week, think about your view of Power… who really has it, how can you get it, and when you have it what will it do for you. Most have never really thought about it. In one season, when “younger” people would admit, “I want to be a VP like you”, I would very politely explain what my days and weeks looked like, and they would typically be horrified and say “REALLY?” Yes, really. I happened to like it (mostly) and by the time I was there, was decent at it. I have A LOT of stories about Power, but this week will focus on my early season where I first encountered multiple Vice, Senior, Executive and straight-up Presidents… An appropriate song for our introduction to Lester, eventually called The Prez Lady, Be Good.

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