Miles Davis’ cantankerous personality is legendary. That is why I was pleasantly surprised to hear what his drummer, Jimmy Cobb, had to say about Miles’ leadership style. Mr. Cobb, the only surviving member of the sextet that created the groundbreaking Kind of Blue, was interviewed about the making of this album on BBC’s Witness. Here are some of the lessons from Mile’s leadership style that I gleaned from this interview.

Hiring the Right Person: This is more than just trying to find someone with a certain skill set. You also need to find a person who is a good match for and can thrive in your organization. As Mr. Cobb relates, Miles’ opinion was “[i]f I have somebody in the band and I bounce something off of them and I can’t get nothing back, then I know I’ve got the wrong guy.” The result, one of the most amazing groups of jazz musicians ever assembled, included Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Mr. Cobb and, of course, Miles Davis.

Empowering Your Employees: Once you have hired that person, provide them with the goals and direction they need to accomplish the job. But do not micromanage with there-is-only-one-way-to-do-this directions. Miles came to the Kind of Blue sessions with just a few notes. He did not hand out sheet music. Rather, he discussed with his musicians with directions such as “play this soft and make it sound like its floating.” To the horns, he provided three cords for “the outside” of one piece, three other chords for “the middle” and said “play each one as long as you want”.

Get it Right the First Time: Encourage your staff to put in their best efforts so the work comes out right the first time. Kind of Blue was recorded in one take. With only one exception, what we hear today was made in one recording with no stops. According to Mr. Cobb, Miles’ “figured the first take was probably going to be the best one anyways.”

Leading By Example: Besides what is noted above, the music on Kind of Blue is the result of improvisation: the musicians followed the lead of Miles’ exceptional trumpet. And, as noted on, “[t]he end result were wondrous” which was “an album that towers over its peers,…a universally standard of excellence.”

Immediately after hearing the interview with Mr. Cobb, I listened to Kind of Blue again and now have a whole new appreciation for Miles Davis and his music. I recommend you listen to the album and let us know if you come to the same conclusion.