Identifying and training future leaders has become a priority for all companies of all sizes. In fact, Deloitte states that “89 percent of companies see leadership as an important or very important issue.” No wonder companies in the United States alone spend more than $14 billion each year on leadership development. To be a leader, then, requires a specific set of skills.
How to identify qualifiers.
The thing is, these programs aren’t always effective. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 38 percent of new chief executives fail in their first 18 months on the job. As such, more and more companies are using a variety of tactics to locate future leaders.
While these identifiers may be effective, it can be a lengthy process. So, what if there was a simpler way to determine the potential leadership quality of someone?
There actually is. And, it’s through music.
The benefits of playing music.
I’m not talking about listening to your favorite tunes. While it’s one of my favorite hobbies, and there are benefits, I’m talking about actually playing a musical instrument.
Confucius and music.
To be fair, humans have long realized the power of music. Confucius, the influential philosopher from Ancient China, even said centuries ago that, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”
More recently, however, there has been a great deal of research to back-up what many of known throughout history; music is good for your mind, body, and soul.
Science and music training.
Science has found that musical training can reduce anxiety, lift your spirits, and improve your respiratory system (if you play an instrument like the flute).
Research from a University of Montreal study has also found that musicians are usually more mentally alert. What’s more, additional research has found that that musical training can enhance verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy skills.
Also, the mental stimulation involved in playing and listening to music may even be able to fight off Alzheimer’s.
Playing a musical instrument can even prepare your brain to be a leader.
Playing an instrument makes you smarter.
Back in 2009, researchers at the University of Zurich found that playing an instrument can change the shape and power of the brain. In other words, playing an instrument can make you smarter.
“Learning to play a musical instrument has definite benefits and can increase IQ by seven points, in both children and adults,” said Lutz Jäncke a psychologist at the University of Zurich.
“We found that even in people over the age of 65 after four or five months of playing a instrument for an hour a week there were strong changes in the brain,” added Mr. Jäncke.
What did you say? Hearing…
“The parts of the brain that control hearing, memory, and the part that controls the hands among others, all become more active. Essentially the architecture of the brain changes.” Furthermore, children who played the piano became more disciplined and attentive.
The research also found that playing an instrument makes it easier to learn a foreign language and interpret the emotions of others.
Additional research shows that since musicians use both sides of their brains, playing a musical instrument can heighten verbal memory, spatial reasoning and literacy skills.
Finally, Nina Kraus, PhD, a neurobiologist at Northwestern University, found that learning a musical instrument boosts language and reading skills in children — even if they’re living in impoverished areas.
Refines time management and organizational skills.
When I was elementary school I played the saxophone for a couple of years. Although that what a long time ago, I still remember how that taught me about time management and organization — which are both essential as a leader.
If you’re a musician, that makes sense since you need to learn how to organize and manage your time wisely in order to practice daily.
Most effective use of time.
What’s more, a study from the 1990s entitled “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,” found that elite violin players engaged in deliberate practice. This meant that they didn’t just practice whenever and wherever they liked. Instead, they determined their most effective times to practice.
They also organized their surroundings so that they were free of distractions and outlined and visualized their goals.
Builds confidence and self-esteem.
As mentioned by Renzo Costarella in a previous Calendar article, “If you want others to be confident in you, you need to be very confident yourself.”
One way to build your confidence is by playing an instrument.
According to a 2014 study of fourth-grade students in Montreal who received individual piano lessons for three years tested higher on self-esteem measures and school music achievement tests.
It turns out that learning to play piano and the experience of mastering a skill was the reason for the boost in confidence.
Requires concentration, discipline, and patience.
When you play an instrument, multiple areas of the brain light up. Scientists who have studied the brains of musicians equate this to a full-body workout. In this case, this mental workout strengths the parts of the brain responsible for concentration, focus, patience — and applied and applying knowledge.
If you’ve ever been in a leadership role, then you know that having laser focus and patience are essential when managing a team.
If you were like me and played an instrument in school, you’re probably well-aware of the responsibility that comes with it. Not only are you responsible for bringing the instrument and educational materials to school when you have lessons, you’re also responsible for the maintenance and care of your instrument.
As a leader, you too must be responsible for the maintenance and care of the workplace. For example, making sure it’s a positive work environment and ensuring that meetings run on-time and are productive.
Allows you to process multiple things at once.
As mentioned previously, playing music forces your brain to process multiple senses at once. As a result, talented musicians have superior multi-sensory skills.
In fact, according to a 2013 study, Julie Roy from the University of Montreal, found:
“The ability of the nervous system to integrate information from all senses—sight, sound, touch, smell, self-motion, and taste—is critical to day-to-day life. Even more important for some specific pursuits. High-level musical ability requires a variety of sensory and cognitive abilities developed over the course of years of training. Recent research has revealed that long-term musical training improves the brain’s ability to adapt, and shapes brain regions involved with audiovisual processing.”
While it’s not recommended that anyone multitask, to be a leader means processing more than one thought or task at a time.
It’s good for your health.
Being a leader is extremely stressful. Even more, you’re expected to always be “on” and available. So, what happens when the stress gets to you? You make yourself sick — which means you either aren’t 100 percent or absent from the workplace.
We know stress is not good for your team’s productivity.
The good news is that playing a musical instrument can improve your health.
Even improvement of senior citizen cognitive health.
There was a study out of the University of Kansas Medical Center that found that playing an instrument improved the health of senior citizens, such as keeping them mentally sharp.
“Music-making is linked to a number of health benefits for older adults,” said Suzanne Hanser, chair of the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Actual health of the body systems.
“Research shows that making music can lower blood pressure, decrease heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression. There is also increasing evidence that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses,” Hanser said.
Strengthens your bond with others.
There are times when playing an instrument can be solitary — like when practicing in your room. It can also strengthen your social skills though. Think about your favorite band. There’s a lot of collaboration going on during the songwriting, production, and performance of a song.
Interpersonal strengths in children as young as four-year-olds.
Interestingly, there was a study published in 2010 that found that four-year-olds who were a part of joint music-making displayed greater spontaneous cooperation and helped others more.
Does that sound like the way to be a leader or what?
Elevates your performance and eliminates stage fright.
The purpose of playing an instrument is to get good enough in order to perform in front of others. That means practicing enough until you feel confident to show off your skills. That’s not to say that you won’t have the jitters — but if you’re well-prepared and confident — those jitters aren’t as bad.
Music can alleviate anxiety. So, it’s a win-win.
If you’re on the current season of Silicon Valley, you know why this is a big deal. It’s hard to rally the troops when you’re so nervous speaking to your team that you literally make yourself sick.
Improves the brain’s executive function.
Executive functions are high-level cognitive processes. This includes critical tasks like processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, making, and problem-solving.
The critical thinking skills — when strengthened — are improving your life — both personally and professionally.
A 2014 study from Boston Children’s Hospital entitled, “Behavioral and Neural Correlates of Executive Functioning in Musicians and Non-Musicians,” found there could be a biological link between early musical training and improved executive functioning in both children and adults. To be a leader, it’s time to learn an instrument.