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Bach to the Beat of Souza

"Some Cat's Got It, Some Cat's Don't." - J.P. Richardson "The Big Bopper"

When the Big Bopper was asked what the secret of his success was, he answered "Some cats got it, some cats don't." I was sixteen when I first heard the Big Bopper say those intriguing words. As a teenager in the 1950's, the wild rock-n-roll music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (more popularly known as the "Big Bopper") had entertained and inspired me. Driving in my hopped up '36 Ford the afternoon of the interview, I found myself puzzled by the Big Bopper's response. What did these cats have? Did I have it? I wanted to know exactly what some cats had that made them so successful. Within two months, I found out. What I learned that day was one of those life-changing lessons that has impacted the course of my life and has formed the framework of this book.

On a Tuesday morning, two weeks after the Big Bopper interview, I slipped into the Campbell High School band as usual – quiet, shy and unnoticed. Scrawled on the chalkboard were the words "Anyone who wants to try out for student director, write your name on the board." Eight names of popular students were jotted underneath. Seizing the moment, I walked to the board and wrote my name down.

As a high school sophomore, I had never assumed any role of leadership before. So, what motivated me – a rather vertically challenged, 5'4", average musician – to stand in front of the band and potentially risk my reputation? The answer was simple. I had practiced for this moment for five years. At the age of ten, I had spent countless hours leading an imaginary philharmonic band to John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever. Tinker toy in hand, I would stand on a chair, cueing in the trombones, trumpets, clarinets, drums, flutes and piccolo as my parents' record player blared the tune. I knew every nuance, every entrance of a new instrument and every melody. When the band director announced that we could select our own music, I knew that my day had arrived.

The day arrived. As the eight students practiced their conducting skills to Sousa's tune, my confidence grew, pumping through my veins with each beat of the drum. Their performances were only mediocre. After what seemed like an eternity, I was handed the baton and strode to the podium. As I raised my baton, every instrument shot up in the air. I began to lead. To my delight, the band followed! The chemistry grew as I began cueing in different sections. I could see my quiet, reserved impression being transformed in the eyes of my fellow students. During measures of rest, I watched as students lowered their instruments and turned to each other saying "This guy is great!" And I was. When I had finished and my baton was lowered, I received a standing ovation and all but eight votes. I was the student director of the Campbell High School band. At that moment, I knew that I must be one of those cats that had it.

My life-changing moment came a few weeks later when Mr. Perkins, the bandleader, asked me to lead the band while he made a phone call. To my horror, I was asked to lead a Bach chorale, a piece I had never heard before. But an even bigger problem existed – I didn't know how to read music. I knew my own trumpet part, but I couldn't read bass clef, and the conductor's score looked like a jumble of black dots on the page. Gaining quick composure, I decided to follow the examples of many leaders faced with similar circumstances – fake it! Quickly, I counted the measures and arrived at 98. I determined to mentally count the measures out while leading the band, and when I reached 98, I would cut everyone off and no one would ever know the difference.

Standing before the band, I raised my baton and we were off…at John Philip Sousa's pace. Have you ever heard Bach to the beat of Sousa? The band had never sounded so bad. By the sixth measure, I lost count, and after ten feeble measures, I cut everyone off and said "Anyone for John Philip Sousa? It's all I know."

That is when I learned one of the most important lessons of my life. That is when I learned what some cats "got" and some cats don't. I began to understand that life was going to continue handing me new pieces of music and that I couldn't rely on old records forever to fake my way through. It was then that I learned that successful cats were leaders in their personal and professional lives. More specifically, I discovered that what some cats have and some cats don't is the ability to face any new piece of music. Life is going to be full of change. Success is the ability to read, interpret and manage those changes. The same is true in our personal and professional lives. We must have the ability to stand before a new piece of music - any change - and know what to do.

First, the great conductor can read and interpret new music

Great conductors can look at a new score and immediately hear the symphony in their heads with all of the parts blending together. Musicians who know how to interpret all of those tiny black dots and lines on a new piece of music love to pick up a new score. Great conductors can feel the rhythm and make sense of the cacophony of musical instruments. They often pore over hundreds of musical scores before they pick the few that they are going to introduce to the band.

Just as the band leader has to interpret all of the parts of a score, we must be able to interpret the options and opportunities set before us. As we interpret each of these alternatives correctly, we can make better decisions about our future. Armed not only with basic knowledge and information about life, themselves and their industries, successful people know how to make sense of those elements—anticipating changes, keeping up with a rapid pace and making wise decisions along the way.

Second, the great conductor restores confidence by establishing a strong and clear beat

A skilled conductor sets a beat that is not only rhythmic, but also interpretive. When the conductor begins to lead, band members not only know what rhythm to play, but also when to crescendo and decrescendo, when to come in and go out and all the other subtleties and nuances that are involved in performing the piece. A poor conductor spells disaster! The team in transition needs a strong and interpretive beat from the team leader. Good leaders set the beat by helping their employees understand what their corporate culture is.

Facing a new piece of music is challenging. Learning new systems, cultures and technologies is disruptive; however, when a person has developed a system of learning, assimilating and organizing new information, he or she can often feel the new beat and establish a clear sense of direction.

Third, the great conductor breaks the score down into manageable sections

Too much at one time can be overwhelming. To deviate from the music analogy for a moment, consider Michael Jordan. When he returned to basketball after playing baseball for a while, Peter Vescy asked him, "Michael, do you think that you can come back to basketball where you left off - averaging 32 points a game?" Michael Jordan's response offers an incredibly valuable and insightful lesson. Michael Jordan said to Peter, "Why not? That's only eight points a quarter." By breaking the entire game down into sections, Michael Jordan could focus one quarter at a time. And he was successful.

What "some cats got" and "some cats don't" is the ability to master these key personal leadership skills when they are faced with change. Like a great conductor, they can read and interpret the music, set an interpretive beat that others can follow, and break the music down into manageable parts. When these skills are applied, life's changing score can be met with confidence.

In 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper were tragically killed in a plane crash. Although gone physically, The Big Bopper's Chantilly Lace along with the music of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens lives on, especially in the hearts of many Baby Boomers. It has been many years since I learned what I call the "Big Bopper Lesson," but for the past 40 years I have built my career on what I learned as a 16-year-old. That is what this book is about. They Don't Play My Music Anymore is about interpreting and managing change in your personal and professional life.

Music for a New Millennium

A new millennium is ushering in a whole new work force. Downsizing, reengineering and reorganizations are leaving talented people without work. Many are at their prime earning power and are being left without promising options. Words like "free agency" and "self employed" are not just for the entrepreneur anymore. By the year 2010, some forecasters predict that 50% of the American workforce will be self-employed.

What happens when you are facing a new piece of music personally? Perhaps you are among the casualties of corporate downsizing, or perhaps you have had to face divorce or the death of someone close to you. Regardless of the change, your life has been thrown into an unwelcome transition that you didn't expect, plan for or desire. Nevertheless, the change has come and you are left standing before the world, holding the baton of personal leadership, staring at a new piece of music that is not only unfamiliar, but also very confusing and possibly even frightening. Most of all, you have absolutely no passion for this change. Perhaps you have lost all drive even to get out of bed in the morning. So, where do you go from here?

The following eight steps are essentials for interpreting these changes. When applied, they can help build confidence as you set a new beat that others can recognize and follow. Master these eight essentials and you will have a credible claim to face an unknown future. You will be an agent of change, not a victim.

Essential One: Rediscover Your Passion
Essential Two: Visualize Your Dream—the power of hope
Essential Three: Manage the Five Phases of Culture Shock
Essential Four: Increase Your Value with Intellectual Capital
Essential Five: Focus Your Dream
Essential Six: Think Strategically
Essential Seven: Keep the Faith
Essential Eight: Just Do It