In the process of looking for a new Senior VP of our business, I was on the interview team. While I would not be reporting to this person, he would be leading the business teams that my engineering teams supported, so my input was helpful. I received the resume in advance, and actually prepared before the session 😉 I noticed the normal material on the front – roles, responsibilities, accomplishments – impressive and fairly normal. However on the back of the 2nd page was a list that I had never seen – it was people’s names, where he had worked with them, and where they were now… with clear pride about the arc of each of their careers… something I had never seen…
.. here is a partial list of the people that went through the Messengers with Art – Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Griffin, Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Bobby Timmons, Cedar Walton, Benny Golson, Joanne Brackeen, Billy Harper, Branford Marsalis, James Williams, Keith Jarrett, and Chuck Mangione. As with Laura Nyro, his impact was huge. If you go to the Messengers Wiki page there are over 50 people listed. A stint with The Messengers meant that you had arrived, and also, that you better bring your A game. Art was known to have a very keen ear, and demanded players innovate within the rhythm he drove through all of his music. Today you hear a composition that honor’s a great trumpeter, Clifford Brown who strangely never played with Art, but you can tell in his intro from this Belgium TV clip, a real reverence.
When I met the person behind the resume, I went through the proforma questions, and this was clearly an executive at a completely different level. While trained as an engineer (Chem E – THE hardest), he quickly knew that he was more valuable in roles that drove business results. And, he took the people side of the job very seriously. I asked a bit about each of the people on the back, and was rewarded with stories that showed both vision for what was needed, what this person brought, and how they worked together to achieve results that were even more than either expected. I was excited that he accepted the offer, and was quickly embraced by everyone across the whole company.
What was amazing about him was his ability to crisply define the “What” that needed to be done – in a way that all of us could see not only our role, but our UNIQUE talent that the team needed. It was not just him, or the business… he was able to integrate that into a specific ask that enrolled me in a way that I still study. Back to my Rubik’s cube analogy, he was able to bring the Task into my grasp clearly by knowing how I communicate best, and what type of feedback worked for me. For some it was light-hearted, some it was serious, some more detailed, some just a nod. It was as if he tailored his presence uniquely for us each… which is exactly what he did.
And yet he was consistently the same. I read something Max Roach, another amazing drummer, said about Art’s drumming… “He was the only drummer whose time I recognize immediately.” As a leader, that core presence and foundation has to be honed and solid… and then, has to be leveraged with partners in ways that serve them and the team best. It will take perhaps a lifetime to master – and I am sure if I asked him he would muse that he is still a beginner.. and that is perhaps another element. Approach each interaction with a fresh ability to learn and gather insights from others. Think of your own path, and what you want as partners to leave behind… as we Remember Clifford.