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Power partners

by | Feb 23, 2022 | Lester Young, partner, Power

Those who say they have Power…

As I finished talking about our project, there was a pause in the conversation while the Senior VPs were considering what I had shared. My boss, now my partner, was leaning back as he always did, even though he knew most of these very Powerful men well. By now he had confidence in my ability to communicate difficult concepts quickly and convincingly, which freed him up to study and read what was really happening and not being said…

In the late 1980s, it was acknowledged that IBM, while still growing, had lost its edge on innovation and competitiveness. Steve had worked in and around all the elements of the business by this point, and was well regarded for his leadership of the Parallel Processing project that the government had just turned down. Even with that, his relationships with those in Power now had us in a position to try to do something meaningful about innovation from within. We were seeking funding for an internal “startup” and these SVPs were similar to what we now call Venture (or Vulture) Capitalists partners…

… likely miss the quiet partners

Young was one of the most imaginative tenor saxophonists of this century while being a distressingly shy man. He disguised his delicate temperament behind a bittersweet smile. He also invented an idiosyncratic language that acquaintances sensed was another means of distancing himself from an insensitive world. This maddened one of his booking agents, who exclaimed: “I’d talk to him and all he’d say was ‘bells’ or ‘ding, ding’!” Young was the originator of the term “bread” as an expression for money, and habitually called both men and women “lady”. He put the phrase “Cool”, that I personally overuse, into our lexicon by constantly calling anything and everything “Cool, man”

He was, of course, the man who nicknamed Billie Holiday “Lady Day”, and she, in turn, called him “The Prez”. She once explained: “I always felt he was the greatest, so his name had to be the greatest. I started calling him the President.” They met in 1934, following Young’s arrival in New York to join Fletcher Henderson’s group. Holiday invited him to live with her and her mother after he discovered a rat in his Harlem hotel. In her autobiography, she recalled that “he’d come by the joints where I was singing, to hear me or sit in”. At this stage, neither of them had recorded anything, but they constantly boosted one another’s morale. Holiday admitted she wanted to sing in the style that Young improvised, while he often studied the lyrics before playing a song. By 1937, having recorded independently of each other, they cut some startlingly elegant music as partners, displaying an unparalleled musical compatibility that verged on telepathy.

… who actually have it…

Steve, like Lester, was a very shy person, very private, who let very little show. I am, of course – completely the opposite. This is why we made Powerful partners. Steve knew he needed energy and enthusiasm to gather momentum around our wild ideas, and I was crazy enough (and young enough) to believe we could actually pull this off. I would come up with an idea for an approach, and he would, of course, know the exact right person to talk with, and I was off on a plane to enroll them in our grand plans. And he would ground me at the right times when my “solos” were a little TOO creative, like Billie did with Lester…

From the middle ’30s through the end of their lives, Billie and Lester were rarely apart. It was said they could simply look at each other and hear what the other would do next – the ultimate definition of partners. Steve and I would be similar – me taking the lead on talking, and him observing the room, and later debriefing what we could now do. The trust and Power that are built in these high-pressure roles is hard to convey in only a few lines, and probably why this storyline appears often as I consider what leadership really is.

partners always bring out the Power in you…

You have a unique Power that was crafted in you through some series of experiences and partners, and hopefully, some fun stories like these. And then it is all about where you are in the Power structure. When I was more junior, I would seek out experiences that are not on the “normal” path. I found that I learned much faster and better when I understood how to get senior partners to honestly open up about their real experiences.

And if you are that senior person, are you taking the time to pass along the real Power and true story of your experiences? As I have pivoted in my career, many of these stories are told often to share a perspective that might be helpful. Many of them came from this season of seeing what Power really was, and wasn’t. Steve would eventually head off to buy a boat in Florida, and on the first night of the trip home to DC, his brand new toy – an early “cell phone” died, leaving me in charge. Luckily my partner had prepared me to handle that Power. George Avakian, the jazz producer who befriended both Billie and Lester, believes: “The session in which she did this track is really the one that expresses their closeness musically and spiritually more than any other.” A Sailboat In the Moonlight.

 

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