Songwriters for Soldiers – A true team effort!

Recently, a few of us experienced what can only be described as a trans-formative songwriting and team experience.  2 weekends ago, Sherrie Austin, and I joined hit songwriters from throughout Nashville at a rural retreat.  The mission was to collaborate on songs that told the very personal stories of soldiers and their families whom are battling PTSD.  Phew, talk about a passionate, emotional, inspirational and exhausting experience. How about one more superlative? Rewarding.

For a weekend, songwriters who love nothing better than to write, got the opportunity to put away their appointment books, forget about Music Row, not worry about if a song is “ready for radio,” and write from the deepest spaces in the heart.  Primarily, writers acted as conduits for the amazing and personal stories of these men and women heroes.  Our Veterans…Their families and their counselors.

On Saturday night we had a traditional “Song-circle” or “guitar pull.”  When one by one the writers and veterans performed their songs for this intimately sized group, there was not a dry eye in the house. By the end of the 2nd song, a box of tissues had been placed in the center of the circle….for easy access to all. Suffice it to say that all of us have been changed by this experience.

This collaborative retreat was co-sponsored by The Beat of Life and S.A.F.E. (Soldiers and Families Embraced)  These are two tremendously cool non-profits whose focus on healing are synergistic with one another. Without the collaboration of these two start-ups, both very small in stature, but large and bold in mission…this weekend could not have happened.   “Because Music Can Save a Life,” is the motto of The Beat of Life.  We believe it truly can.  And one life at a time, that’s what will happen.  Through team effort, developing more effective programs and partnerships as time goes by, we can save lives.  I’m happy to wear several “volunteer hats” for TBOL.  I hope you’ll check out this worthy team and see what you can do to help. Jeni (The Founder and visionary) Kelly (Our Development Director) and Robin, our newest jack of all trades, sharp-shooter.  When people come together, whether at a Fortune 500 company, a non-profit or a tech start up, it’s amazing what can be accomplished.

Is Your Workplace Environment Stunting Collaboration and Innovation?


Recently, our team participated in a songwriting/team-building program with a Fortune 500, Financial Services Company.  We were very excited to be working with a new group of driven, talented individuals.On this day, we were part of a full-days “technical” training.  We were the “Grand Finale”-Non-industry related part of the program.  We were there to shake things up, and help shift the thought processes of those in the room from their normal, linear thinking norms.

We were challenged to work in a room, where the layout was, well let’s say not ideal so as to encourage collaboration.  A primary goal with our programs!  Set up class-room style with long, thin rectangular tables.  All attendees were facing forward.  Nearly all had laptops in front of them, rather than the round tables we typically prefer.  So, what did we do?

Well, we “re-arranged the chairs on the Titantic!”  We shut down the lap-tops.  We asked those in attendance to move the tables around. Rather than row upon row of faces turned towards  “us” at the “front” of the room, we NOW had 4 “pods” or “Squares” of attendees facing each other.  Eye contact.  Everyone was now able to see lips moving when a colleague was speaking…contributing to the conversation.


NOW, we were set to work together in individual teams, and as a collective whole.  And everyone chipped in.  Beautiful.

 So, what can you do within the “walls” and WITH the walls of your organization to better promote innovation through collaboration? 

  •  Are there actual physical barriers which you as leadership can consider “bringing down?”
    •  Are there systemic barriers, or parameters that might be easier to change than you think?
      •  Conversely, are there systemic barriers or policies, which despite how difficult change may appear to be…STILL need to change? 
        • What can you do right now?  Within 3 months…6 months…12 months to better assure that all voices at the table have a say in creating and/or finding solutions?

        Let’s think about it….Then, let’s do something about it.


Emdeon Team-Building/Songwriting with Karen Taylor-Good!

Recently, we facilitated an intimately sized songwriting/team-building program for Emdeon’s IT department. The VP’s who attended this program are charged with blending personnel and systems from an old company, with parts of a new company, new personnel, and new systems.

With Grammy-Nominated Songwriter, Karen Taylor-Good at my side, we convened in the collaborative workspace that is C3 Consulting just south of downtown Nashville. Tackling both the challenges of A) A company in today’s fast-changing healthcare industry, along with the B) The challenges faced by a company in the process of merging the “old with the new”, is a formidable challenge.

However, as we often find…the steeper the hill, the more opportunities we have to improve… the longer view vision we tend to have, which leads to a big picture focus. This is especially good when dealing with such complex issues. If we “can’t see the forest through the trees”, then being strategic in our implementation of new engagement systems, new professional development goals etc. becomes quite a bit more difficult.

Building a Great Team – A Dentist's Chair View

If you have work to be done on your teeth, please take note. The following describes a situation that might make you LOVE going to the Dentist. This is not your typical open up and say “ah” experience.

Building a great team is not easy. Developing that team once in place so that it performs consistently at championship level, may be even more challenging. However, Dr. James Munro and his amazing cast at Belle Forest Dental in Bellevue, just a few minutes west of Nashville proper…. are Oscar-worthy in the quality, scripting and demeanor of their service. From the moment you walk into their office “living room” with its West Elm sense of modern, open décor you are swept into feeling as though you are in a spa. Complimentary beverages of a very wide variety await you in their help yourself, guest fridge. Watch the program of your choice on their huge flat screen TV, or assuming it’s not being utilized at the time, take a seat in their highly effective, full body massage chair, isolated in it’s own “Zen” room complete with waterfall sounds, and soft lighting to set the mood. This part of your experience really helps reduce your stress level before entering the inner sanctum.

None of this even begins to touch upon how genuinely friendly, extremely knowledgeable, or efficient the cogs turn here. Susan and Connie in the front desk area are amazing. “What flavor smoothie would you like when you’re finished?

“What’s that,” you say?

“Yes, with fresh fruit, we make a smoothie for you to take with you when done with your procedure! “

Brilliant. This clinic not only goes above and beyond in every aspect of your clinical experience with them, before, during and post-procedure….BUT they also stand by their work. If there is an issue with something that has been done, and you’re not happy with a result, they will take care of it. (Disclaimer – within reason. If you go and bash your teeth on a microphone or with a baseball bat…I wouldn’t expect any help here.)

The staff at Belle Forest Dental truly illustrates the winning definition of TEAM to me. Together Everyone Achieves More.

The Magical Team of Rodgers and Hammerstein

In talking about what makes a team of songwriters successful, or a team at your organization successful, it’s instructive to view the example of the hugely influential collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein.  This unit changed Broadway into a worldwide word and destination and idea.

In this entry we’re specifically discussing the hit musical Oklahoma!

What made Rodgers and Hammerstein stand out were the risks they took together to write a play that they believed was truly meaningful. It was unheard of at the time to have an opening number without colorful costumes, celebratory dancing, magnificent music, and of course chorus girls. Yet Oklahoma! opened with a single baritone singer and a woman churning butter (and the chorus girls didn’t even enter until half way through the first act).

INNOVATION – Their willingness to risk altering long-standing traditions was a testimony to their cohesion and defined their extraordinary friendship. Rodgers recalled his relationship with Hammerstein right from this opening piece, saying:

The paramount thing is what we gave each other creatively. The very first lyric that Oscar finished was ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’,’ and when he handed it to me and I read it for the first time I was a little sick with joy because it was so lovely and so right. When you’re given lines like ‘The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,’ you get something to say musically.

And the rest as they say…is history.

Team-Building One Tooth at a Time!

Recently, Scott and I worked with a small group of Dental Health Professionals on TEAM in the work-place. Here are some kind words the Event Organizer shared with us.

“Jeff, Thank you SO much for the session on Monday! I have heard from everyone that it was a great meeting. I played the song along with the worksheets/lyrics for a couple of our doctors – they loved it.” Lynda D.

It’s always nice to get positive feedback, and feel as though we touched the clay of those in attendance at an event. Thanks for your support Lynda!

Blessings for 2013.
“The Song Team.”

Going Camping…For the First Time in 20 Years.

This past weekend, my significant other and I met up with 5 total strangers from an “outdoor meetup” group we had found online. The mission? To take a rather challenging (for me) hike and camping trip (in tents…in December). A gorge called “Walls of Jericho” on the Alabama/TN. line was the destination.

I was the oldest in the group likely by 10 years, and the least experienced at this type of activity (by far more than is measurable). I was excited, but also a bit anxious. Would I be able to keep up while transporting a 35 pound pack on my back? What would it be like to NOT have a restroom to use late at night, in the dark and cold, while a pack of Coyotes howl in the distance? (They were loud and all too happy sounding by the way.)

I didn’t have all the proper gear, though my companion did. Also, though I love meeting new people, one never knows how those transactions will go,and I was going to be spending the next 48 hours with these folks in rather intimate and extreme situations.

One of the first things I realized rather quickly was that my fears about the rest of the members of our “expedition” were unfounded. There was no judgement passed on my less than professional collection of gear. Advice was given in mentoring fashion, rather than in superior fashion. Questions I asked were answered with grace. Amazing! We had no cell or internet signals out there on the trail. That was refreshing and a bit nerve-wracking simultaneously.

Upon reaching our destination in the gorge on day 1, we pitched camp as our first order of business to take advantage of our limited daylight hours. My partner and I had forgotten one key element of our tent set-up…support poles. Ahh..the jokes were rolling around in my head, and I was waiting for our new friends in arms to make some humorous comments at our expense. However, they were supportive of our efforts to use all the extra rope I had packed (I always pack rope in my car…never know when it will come in handy) to rig the tent between two trees. Then, one of our more experienced colleagues suggested we find a flexible branch or two in the scrub to take the place of our MIA support poles. It was brilliant and resourceful…and guess what? It worked!

I learned a few lessons on this trip.

1) Yoga has helped put me in better shaped than I’ve been in many years as far as strength and flexibility…BUT, I am out of shape as far as my cardio goes 🙂

2) People at their core, love to share their experiences with each other, and even lend a hand when at all possible. The desire to help each other, be communal…be a team is bred into us through the generations. Sadly, it’s been bludgeoned out of many of us in the world of business.

3) The supplies, pieces, or resources you need to succeed in your role in life..and at work are all around. We just need to have open eyes, open heart, and the ability to accept it when an olive branch….or a “tent” branch is extended our way as a gift. has just published a list of 100 Exemplary Sites for Future Leaders, and Write a Song, Build a Team has been included! The full list is available here:  We appreciate this honor.

The sites on the list are all great resources for people already in leadership positions, or those that are seeking a leadership role at a business.

We strive to provide our readers with useful information on leadership education and career opportunities, and this list is a further extension of that mission.

Do You Have a Vision, or Do You Have a Sleep Aid?

I hope you enjoy this excellent blog from my colleague Bill Stainton. for more information.

Typically when organizations hire me it’s because they want to produce results—more results; better results. (Although occasionally it’s because they really like the Beatles, and in that arena, I’m “the guy.”) One of the first questions I’ll ask them is, “What’s your Single Shared Vision?” The responses vary:

“To be the best.”
“To make money.”
“Umm…errr…duh…. What was the question again?”

Every now and then they’ll say, “You mean like a vision statement? Yeah, we got one of those. It’s hanging up somewhere in the lunchroom.” Then they take me to view the precious document. It’s printed on ancient parchment, in Olde English type (hand lettered, I believe, by Benedictine monks). Once the dust is wiped from the glass, I see that the paragraphs-long vision statement contains phrases like:

“To be recognized as a leader in quality and value where ingenuity and commitment will lead to superior financial and operation results….”
“To enhance the long-term value of the investment dollars entrusted to us by our shareholders….”
“To consistently strive to improve efficiency and productivity through implementing best practices….”

Folks, this is not a vision statement! It’s more of a sleep aid.

It certainly isn’t a Single Shared Vision. Let’s break that down. A Single Shared Vision is:

Single. This doesn’t mean unmarried. (Well, it does, but not in this context.) It means one. One overriding idea that drives all others. Some examples:
Microsoft: “A computer on every desk.”
NASA (in the 60s): “A man on the moon by the end of the decade.”
The Beatles: “Bigger than Elvis.”
Shared. As in “Everybody knows it; everybody owns it.” Posting something in the lunchroom doesn’t mean it’s been shared. That just means it’s been posted. A vision is truly shared when every employee knows it by heart, and truly believes in it.
A Vision. A vision is not a goal. Goals are what you accomplish in order to achieve your vision. A goal is something you do; a vision is something that excites you. You do a goal; you live a vision. You can see it, hear it, taste it, smell it, touch it. It’s what gets you up in the morning. Now, with that said, here’s a quick multiple choice quiz. Which of these would be more likely to excite you and get you up in the morning?
“To enhance the long-term value of the investment dollars entrusted to us by our shareholders….”
“To be bigger than Elvis!”

In an upcoming article, I’ll take you through my 7-Step System for discovering and clarifying your own Single Shared Vision. But for now I’ll leave you with two simple tests you can use to see if your Single Shared Vision is on the right track.

Test #1: The Bumper Sticker Test. This one’s easy. If your Single Shared Vision won’t fit on a bumper sticker, it’s too long.

Test #2: The “Cool” Test. What does this mean? It means that when you share your vision with your team (or even better, co-create it with your team), their reaction should be, “Cool!” Ideally, you want a vision that is so compelling that your team thinks, “Wow! We get to come to work and do that!”

A compelling, emotionally-rich Single Shared Vision is one of the best tools you can have if you really want to produce results—in your business and in your life!