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MARTIN WILLOUGHBY: Keeping the beat — Kelvin Moore uses music to lead

Martin Willoughby, columnist

Martin Willoughby, columnist

One of my favorite thinkers on leadership is Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller. His bestselling book Leadership is an Art serves as a foundation for my own view of leadership. He wrote a very interesting follow-up book titled Leadership Jazz, which I also believe is very informative for today’s leaders. He states in the book, “A jazz band is an expression of servant leadership. The leader of a jazz band has the beautiful opportunity to draw the best out of the other musicians. We have much to learn from jazz-band leaders, for jazz, like leadership, combines the unpredictability of the future with the gifts of individuals.” Jazz pianist and management scholar Frank Barrett in his book Yes to Mess makes a similar point when he states that leaders like jazz musicians must “interpret vague cues, face unstructured tasks, process incomplete knowledge and take action anyway.” He believes that jazz musicians and leaders must prepare themselves to be spontaneous.

Kelvin Moore, general manager of the Jackson Convention Complex, can relate to this thinking as he is a jazz percussionist and has been serving in leadership roles in the event management industry for over two decades. Moore grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and went to Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., where he majored in business management. During his high school years, he played sports and was in the band where he was a percussionist. He shared, “Going into my junior year I had to choose between sports and music. I decided to focus on music, which from that point on became my true passion.”

Screen Shot 2013-10-03 at 11.13.46 AMEarly in his career, Moore was able to combine his love for music with his natural tendencies to organize and lead by going to work at Sea World of Texas. He supervised their sound and lighting operations, concerts, special events and recording studio. He said, “Having lots of responsibility at such a young age helped cultivate the skills needed to eventually lead me to where I am today.” Moore’s leadership skills have allowed him to enjoy a varied and fulfilling career in event management. During his career, he has served in leadership roles around the country including at facilities in Washington, Kansas, Virginia and Texas. Moore explained, “This industry allows me to remain close enough to the music industry while being able to utilize my strengths for a public good.”

Moore believes that the key to being an effective leader is the ability to clearly identify and articulate the vision of the organization. He noted, “I’ve found that if your team has a clear understanding of not just ‘what’ the vision is, but ‘why’ the vision is what it is, then it is so much easier to get their buy in. Getting buy in and commitment from the team is half the battle. The other half is all of the technical management aspects of developing a strategic plan, working the plan and measuring the results.” Moore further explained that his leadership philosophy is to “do all you can to surround yourself with the most talented people you can find whose skill set and natural disposition best matches vision of the organization you are tasked with leading.”

These days Moore is an active member of the leadership community in Jackson and applies his leadership skills to grow the Jackson Convention Center.

While we may not all have the gift of musical talent, we can learn how to grow in our leadership skills and prepare ourselves for spontaneity. In our fast-paced business world, this is rapidly becoming a key ingredient for success as a leader.


Martin Willoughby is a business consultant and regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. He serves as Chief Operating Officer of Butler Snow Advisory Services, LLC and can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.


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