Jazz Music’s Inspiring Lessons for Effective Leadership

Bruce Cozadd

Recently, I had the privilege to sit down with Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, for the Jazz Music’s Surprising Lessons for a Healthy Democracy in America fireside chat, hosted by NationSwell. During our time together, we explored the principles that jazz music and pluralism share, and how to apply them to leadership and citizenry. Our discussion was particularly relevant because, although Wynton and I come from different backgrounds, our open dialogue brought to light common themes, threads and connections between our industries and areas of expertise.

Music has always been a major passion and source of happiness for me. When I co-founded Jazz Pharmaceuticals back in 2003, there were a couple metaphors that really resonated with me about my favorite music genre, jazz. First, the combination of “virtuoso skill as an individual while playing well with others” is what I wanted to base my company culture on. Second, improvisation or innovation is really important in the biopharmaceutical industry, but we must adhere to regulations. This means we “must innovate on top of structure” which is a concept that is important to the success of our organization to bring solutions to patients and their families. With these in mind, I knew that Jazz Pharmaceuticals was the perfect name for the type of organization I wanted to build. That’s why our core values of “integrity, collaboration, passion, pursuit of excellence, and innovation” are inspired by jazz music, and why all Jazz employees are called “Jazzicians”.

During my fireside chat with Wynton, we discussed our thoughts on pluralism – pluralism refers to a society, system of government or organization that has different groups that keep their identities while existing with other groups or within a more dominant group. Rather than just one group, subgroup or culture dictating how things go, pluralism recognizes a large number of competing interest groups, that share the power. In typical jazz music fashion, we riffed off of each other on ways our experiences relate to pluralism, and we saw three themes rise to the surface:

  • Me vs we: For the both of us, whether it be on the bandstand or in our company culture, the “me vs we” mentality rings true. How can you be a performer, a virtuoso, but also involve those around you? We tend to focus on individuals, but it isn’t about the individual, it is about what the organization achieves when we work together, similar to all instruments playing together.
  • Improvisation on top of structure: Jazz music is all about improvisation but at its core, there is a base structure to guide the musicians through the set. Similarly, at Jazz, we have a corporate structure that guides our integrity and operations as a company, but improvisation and innovative thinking among our teams is what ultimately enables us to bring solutions to our patients.
  • Leadership as being in service to others: As a leader, are you putting the spotlight on yourself or are you putting the spotlight on the organization? Leadership behind the scenes can enable teams to have the confidence to complete their tasks, grow as a group and be more productive.

As a society, we each play a role in creating an inclusive environment in the U.S., and around the world, by supporting each other and what makes us all unique and different. To do that, we must start from a place of understanding, talk about the issues we are facing, even when we don’t have the answers, and – most importantly – just listen. As a company, Jazz has a style all its own: a unique fusion of expertise, innovation and collaboration that manifests in the way we live our values, put patients first, and strive to create the best working experience possible.

Going forward, I will be mindful that the themes we explored in this discussion are not only reflected in my actions, but the actions of Jazz as a company. I will continue this dialogue to ensure we are providing platforms to our employees and to contribute to change through inclusion. While I am proud of what we have accomplished; I recognize that fostering a diverse and inclusive culture takes ongoing effort; and I remain committed to furthering our goals to ensure we support all backgrounds across our company.