Copyright © Dr. Stephen H. Dawson, DSL 2021

March 18, 2021

The members of the band.

"All musicians are potential band leaders." Thelonious Monk

I was being recruited in 1994 by a big-name record label out of Nashville to serve as bandleader for an up-and-coming country music guy. The deal terms proposed to me were pretty good, but I did not feel good about the deal in my gut. I passed on the work for one reason: they had not heard me play a note. They knew of my education and experience credentials but did not know too much about me as a person.

I recommended last week a short film for you to watch. I hope you watched it. We were going to talk about how your viewing experience of this short film went for you during our time together this week. The part about the whole person we covered last week is key to both this week and all things going forward. We will discuss the concept of inclusion as we meet now to go through how you felt during your viewing experience of the short film.


I, for lack of a better way to say it, was in the band of this up-and-coming country music guy in 1994 without accepting the offer. My customer was going to be out in a sea of lights. They would be nameless and faceless to me. I would be paid bi-weekly if two things occurred. First, the new material we were going to record into an album sold where the record company was happy with album sales. Second, concert tickets supporting music material the guy had going on before me and supporting the pending record album sold. I would be replaced in an instant if both of these conditions were not happening consistently. I was okay with this criteria combination, as it is the nature of the work. Not everyone sees it this way. The album Centerfield is the third solo studio album by John Fogerty. Fogerty played all the instruments on this album himself. I guess John did not want to have the collective risk of some people problems anymore at that point in his career.

The identified people problem suffering your ability to have strategic planning work accomplished was compacted into a few minutes during the Most film. The older main character realized the problem, considered it, and acted on it. He had to act, one way or the other. He acted under duress imposed on him from the circumstances, not any person or persons. All options presented to him hurt him. It hurt me to watch the film. It is probable resolving your people problem is going to cause you some hurt, one way or the other.

The definition of inclusion is simple: included. Included, in the form of The degree of in is another topic. The fairness of being in or out is another topic. All I am saying to you now is a person who is included in your organization is in your organization, period.

A recent discussion with David Daniels had Dave sharing more of his wisdom with me. "Inclusion as part of the D & I equation revolves around people feeling like their voice is heard while leadership supports this concept because they believe it produces better solutions, thus better results, both financially and with higher commitment levels of employees i.e. the ability to attract the best of the best in their industry." I agreed with Dave. I see people providing their input as many rivers coming together in a pool to feed a tree. The tree, in this example, is the work the people need to accomplish. It is tough to remain distinct when mixed, but this condition is similar to a cake. Add the ingredients, mix them, bake them, and there are no more ingredients. There is cake. Altering ingredient amounts and types means a different tasting cake. A structural approach to strategic planning for the who part and when they get involved part helps to accomplish a preferred result.

Individual voices as water coming together.


Remember I wrote a few paragraphs back my customer would be out in a sea of lights? Well, those people were to be a part of my organization. I needed them to be happy by spending their money for me to keep my band leader job. I was not sure I could deliver the collective satisfaction the folks in that sea of light were after, as the big-name record company out of Nashville had not heard me play a note. There had to be a stronger connection to know if we would make it to success by a probability calculation.

The customer.

Your strategy work is not getting accomplished as you prefer. We pushed off the option it is not a time or skills problem causing the work delay. It would be best if you now changed who you include doing your strategy work. This change does not mean they need to leave your organization; only stop doing this work. If you realize they do not have the skills to do the work, then you have a separate set of staffing actions to accomplish. Additionally, you have to take a hard look at if they should have done the work based on the time allotted to them to do the work combined with the workspace resources where they perform their work. Again, as I said a few weeks back, you have to call it for what it is.

Thelonious Monk made a strong point without saying it. One must first be in the band before one can lead the band. Franklin Roosevelt made the same point: "You are either with us or against us." Today, we are faced with how to best recover from the 2020 global pandemic. It is clear the definition of work for many roles has changed forever. So, who is in your band, so to speak, for your organization going forward?

Richard Florida and Adam Ozimek addressed some of the challenges with remote work going forward. "Before the pandemic, a number of communities developed strategic initiatives to attract newcomers-some aimed at high-tech workers but others open to anyone who commits to moving. Many include the lure of cash incentives, akin to the moving expenses paid by companies to new hires." This criterion is no longer valid for many industries and companies. "To lure and support the growing ranks of remote workers, communities will need to build out more complete ecosystems for them to live, work and gather." Meaning, the ability to do remote work effectively as a whole person has changed the workforce forever by establishing suburban life a primary regardless of distance from the office to home locations.

Nataly Kelly wrote about the complexities of having inclusiveness in a global organization. "While it might not be immediately obvious why an employee in Tokyo should learn about the history of slavery in the United States, if we want our global teams to work together, they need to understand one another's realities." Going deeper, the concept of data is still not managed well at the executive level. Data, in the form of understanding the facts for how we as humanity got to where we stand today.

Thomas Davenport and Randy Bean found in their survey executives are excited about implementing artificial intelligence in their organizations, but they do not have reliable data leadership skills and leaders based on "nascent and evolving" leadership roles. "The executives are usually pretty bullish about technology but quite bearish regarding whether their organizations are becoming more data-driven." The survey shows the role of data officer at the executive level is not agreed on by a high majority of executives.

The pattern playing out is clear. The leadership's proverbial music is not making the audience (the organization) happy enough for them to want to keep listening. The organization cannot understand how data, being facts, interrelates because the leadership does not have a strong enough grasp on the data lifecycle concept themselves. Bad data, either incorrect or insufficient, feeds into both inaccurate and ineffective data analysis. This combination destroys efforts such as the planning of strategy.


My work as a bandleader was to play acoustic guitar, sing harmony, arrange much of the music after songwriters derived a melody, set the performance tempo, and develop musicianship in the band members. It is not easy to hide during a live performance of music. Strumming the guitar only goes so far, as we say in the guitar business. One must play the guitar, in my case, with the other musicians to have a band. Add in the singing aspect, and the sound is either is or is not pleasant to the paying customer. Your role now as a leader is to use a refrain to help get your people either to or back to productivity.

Which one do you want?

You could swap guitars, swap guitar amplifiers, move the musicians to a different location on the stage, or any number of changes to help improve the sound of a band. Say you needed to pick out a chair for you to sit down in for whatever reason. You could pick from many different seating options to meet your need. If you need strategic planning work accomplished, you will need to keep making changes to find the mix that results in productive work output. You are looking for, as an analogy, both applause and continued funding from your audience for your strategic planning work. There is a time constraint to almost everything. The older main character in the Most film was under an explicit time constraint. Staying focused on the scope of the strategy you are trying to plan is a viable means to knowing if you are either spending too much time getting the work accomplished or if you are indeed not getting work accomplished.

I used the words of James Taylor to help me walk out most of my musical journey. "I believe musicians have a duty, a responsibility to reach out, to share your love or pain with others." The older main character in the Most film made the same choice as Taylor: sharing love or pain with others. Both this older main character and Taylor are leaders in their respective lots of life. Leading is not easy, but I never said it was easy.

Take time this week and consider the topic of who you need and want to include in your organization. Think about the associated time constraints, the money constraints, and the pains of having people come and go either moving around or out of your organization. The world population reached 7.8 billion people as of March 2020. There is no shortage of people for anything. Clearly, you cannot pick everyone in the world because you do not have enough money to pay everyone in the world. Besides, you would get so big along the way you would be identified as violating antitrust. Selecting irrevocable choices...this is the harsh reality of accomplishing strategic planning. Perhaps playing some music you like to hear during your consideration time will help you go through this thinking easier.

So, I ask you: where do you want to go? I hope your answer is to develop the plans necessary to accomplish the strategy you know you need to achieve to arrive at your desired destination. If this is the case, then let's get to work. If not, then I wish you the best of everything.

I hope we will see each other here next week. Email me if you need to talk before then.

Dr. Stephen H. Dawson, DSL
Executive Strategy Consultant

Stephen Dawson is an executive consultant of technology and business strategy, serving significant international organizations by providing leadership consulting, strategic planning, and executive communications. He has more than thirty years of service and consulting experience in delivering successful international business development and program management outcomes in the US and SE Asia. His weekly column, "Where Do You Want To Go?," appears on Thursdays.

Dr. Dawson has served in the technology, banking, and hospitality industries. He is a noted strategic planning visionary. His pursuit of music has been matched with his efforts to lead by service to followers. He holds the clear understanding a leader without followers is a person taking a long walk alone.

Stephen has lived his life in the eastern United States, visiting most of the United States and several countries. He is a graduate of the Regent University School of Business & Leadership. Contact him at