How Jazz Music Prepared Me for Life as a CEO

While we think of executives as rigid, driven and all business and musicians appear to be casual and more free spirited, these two roles have a lot more in common that you think.

learn more about Luc Burgelman

By Luc Burgelman


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Last week, I found myself in an Italian restaurant playing improvised jazz music with a few other musicians. Despite what it might sound like, I'm not a full-time musician. I'm actually CEO of a big data startup, a far cry from my musical moonlighting gig.

But as I played, I couldn't help but connect the dots between the two roles. On paper, CEOs and jazz musicians may seem like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum and appear to have very little in common. We think of executives as rigid, driven, and all business, while musicians appear to be casual and more free spirited.

Related: 7 Risks Every Entrepreneur Must Take

However, I believe there are many similarities between the two:

Willing to take the risks.

First, being an entrepreneur is inherently risky, and it's an unpredictable road to trek; you never know how it will turn out. You do know it is an adventurous endeavor and you are driven to succeed. The same can be said with jazz music. When the band starts jamming, they never know exactly how it will end. They put trust in their instincts, skills and fellow musicians, and then go for it.

Manic about the goal.

Musicians and CEOs both have an unrelenting drive to succeed and both know that the way to get there is by surrounding yourself with the right people. In my band, for instance, I want to surround myself with the most skilled, complementary musicians I can find so that we'll sound the best. The same can be said in the corporate world. For any company to succeed, it needs good, quality people that a leader can trust to do their jobs. It only takes one person to negatively impact the "sound" and set the rest of the team off course.

Related: It's Your Vision: Help Them See It

Setting the vision.

All CEOs and entrepreneurs have a distinct vision for where they want their company to go. The same can be said for musicians as well. As a result, it's incredibly important to communicate that vision from the get-go to make sure your employees (and fellow musicians) are all on the same page. When everyone is rallied around a set goal, the path to that goal is more streamlined and achievable.

Relying on resources.

Like I mentioned earlier, surrounding yourself with the right people is one of the most important steps an entrepreneur (and musician) can take. When good people are in place, a CEO can foster a culture of trust because everyone has the necessary capabilities. This type of environment ultimately empowers the employees to do their best work.

The outcome of the group is always bigger than the sum of the individual parts.

My musical background helped me understand that there is very little we should try to control in work, and in life. When I play jazz, I always know what the finished product will sound like, but I never really know what is going to happen exactly. I trust in my own training and that of my band mates and just relax and let it happen. That's a lesson I've transferred into my life as a CEO. Sure, as a CEO it's difficult to relinquish control, but I realized what I can control are the hiring and vision. After that, you must foster an environment where your employees can be creative and ultimately make choices while implementing the work that drives toward the desired outcome.

Related: 6 Steps for Creating a Culture of Significance From the Ground Up

Luc Burgelman


Luc is a co-founder and the CEO of NGDATA, a big data analytics and enterprise data management company. Prior to NGDATA, he co-founded Porthus, which delivered cloud-based solutions that IPO’d in 2006 and was acquired by Descartes Systems Group in 2010. 

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

The Dark Side of Pay Transparency — And What to Do If You Find Out You're Being Underpaid
Thinking of a Career Change? Here Are 4 Steps You Can Take to Get There.
A Founder Who Bootstrapped Her Jewelry Business With Just $1,000 Now Sees 7-Figure Revenue Because She Knew Something About Her Customers Nobody Else Did
Everything You Need to Know About Franchise Law

6 Secret Tools for Flying First Class (Without Paying Full Price)

It's time to reimagine upgrading. Here's how to fly first class on every flight, business or personal.


How to Bring Your Franchise to the Next Level With Marketing Automation

With the impacts of inflation and associated costs of running a business, automation is a powerful solution for streamlining a positive guest experience and overall marketing.

Business News

'Crying Northwestern Kid' Turned His Viral Fan Moment Into a Successful Harvard Admissions Essay. He Says the Experience Taught Him About Empathy.

Six years ago, Phillips was watching No. 8 Northwestern take on No. 1 Gonzaga during March Madness when he became a meme.

Starting a Business

90% of Online Businesses Fail in Just 4 Months. You Can Avoid the Same Fate By Using These Strategies.

It's not catastrophizing when we think about potential failure; it's in fact a chance for any business to precisely see any outcome and prepare in advance.