Storytelling, leadership and all that jazz

Sensemaking and sensegiving stories of jazz leadership

From Human Relations

This article explores the role of storytelling as a means of sensemaking and sensegiving about organizing and leadership in jazz. In doing so authors seek to explain how jazz musicians and their leaders articulate their understanding of leadership and its influence on the organized action of creating jazz music.  Jazz was selected as the focus of this research because equivocality is central to its very essence, creating a particularly challenging environment for leaders. Further, the creation of jazz music commonly involves loose constellations of individuals in bands, whose membership is often rather unstable thus imposing high demands on the leadership of these groups. Drawing on contemporary interviews and archival data, authors explore how stories can be used as templates to guide jazz musicians’ sensemaking about the leadership of teams. This research illustrates the significance of the oral tradition of storytelling to the organization of jazz. It is shown how stories allow musicians to make and give sense about the nature of jazz, as well as what it is to be a jazz musician and/or leader.

Abstract

Drawing on contemporary interviews and archival data, we explore how stories can be used as templates to guide jazz musicians’ sensemaking about the leadership of teams, what it means to be a jazz musician and what jazz is (or is not). By going beyond the metaphorical notion of jazz as improvisation, we contribute to theories of leadership by showing how informal storytelling can act as a powerful sensemaking and sensegiving mechanism for leadership and organizing. We also explore the contested nature of stories drawing on the notion of ‘antenarrative’. Our analysis contributes to the body of work on leader sensegiving and storytelling by examining the conditions under which a story’s sensegiving power may be restricted. Our research suggests that the sensegiving power of an ante-narrative and associated stories depends on whether or not they attempt to counter a dominant discourse.

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Article details
Michael Humphreys (2012). Sensemaking and sensegiving stories of jazz leadership Human Relations, 65 (1) : 10.1177/0018726711424320

     
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