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…
Leading with Music presents: Lester Young
“The Prez” – Lester Young is my choice for Presidents Day. Another pioneer and foundational piece of what jazz and popular music would become, he leveraged a very different approach to Power. In fact, his phrasing and use of space and “not” playing were picked up by the great Billie Holiday who became his partner through most of his life. The tunes they crafted effortlessly seemed a great contrast to Power that Big Band and BeBob were similarly blasting out. Their arc would end in 1959 in New York City both dying within 2 months of each other.
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. John Hammond got this new sound onto his label. The same producer who brought us Benny ensured that many would start to hear what eventually would be labeled as a different branch of Jazz, and a different approach to Power, the leadership topic that accompanies The Prez.
With the prospect of working for a person I did not respect, it also became clear to me that people who win proposals are often not the right people to perform the work. In fact, the Power had quickly shifted from those who were Clever to those who were… well… more predictable to manage. The combination had resulted in my friend, the AA, setting me up with a new opportunity to work on another important division project that “needed some help”…
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…
observe the Power of Power
“Who the ___ are you anyway?” was the exasperated shout from the senior Engineer and IBM Fellow from our Austin facility. With the precision of my national debating days, I had just reduced his arguments against what our small (but growing team) was doing into shreds and now I had him calling me names. Perfect. Victory. The facility manager who had brought all of his Power to this meeting had to step in and calm the waters. “I will take your ideas back for consideration and we will be back in touch.” And with that, we observed his team gather their things and leave…
The wonder of Power
As we deplaned in Atlanta, we were looking for directions to the private jets section of the Airport. Catching a taxi across the tarmac, we arrived where the Powerful people fly, and waited for our Division President to arrive. We were due for an important update on the project he was the Executive Sponsor for, and the only time we could find was to fly back with him from Atlanta to DC… So if you are wondering, we flew down from DC to fly back with him … to DC.
Our dinner out that night in Manhattan was lovely and relaxed. Mostly because we were killing time… until an overnight flight would deliver a replacement card for a demo scheduled the next morning. In setting up our demo at THE seat of Power of IBM at that point, 590 Madison Avenue, in the boardroom no less, I had discovered the hardware was dead. And, there was something called DeltaDash that at that point was slightly more common than FedEx, and would bring us a new one at 3 am. No problem, we would drive back and have a few hours before our 10 am demo.
As we were standing in the small conference room off of the Vice-Chairman’s office, we were surveying some of the memorabilia that he had collected over his Powerful career. One of the few engineers to actually ascend to this stratospheric level, he had been my idol when I started. If he could make it as an engineer, I had a chance also. Our President was playing with a ball-bearing race, with the silver rolling balls exposed that he was gently nudging around the circle. He turned to my boss and said, “… at least one of these is mine”