Creativity and incubation: an interview with Sheila E

by Peter Cook

I interviewed Sheila E recently on her world tour. Sheila Escovedo is a world-class drummer, percussionist whose credits read like chapters in a music history book: Pete Escovedo, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Beyoncé, Herbie Hancock, Diana Ross, Lionel Richie, Ringo Star, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan and George Duke.

Having been Prince’s musical director, I was interested in Sheila’s ability to lead teams of musical giants amongst the many things we talked about. Have a look at the interview below.

Leadership lessons from Sheila Escovedo

Time and Timing : The musicians at the back of the stage are vital to the success of the musicians at the front of the stage. A great rhythm section makes the difference to peak performance. Time and Timing are essential and this is as true in business and life as it is in music.

Fans and Followers : The importance of playing to the people at the back of the hall as well as those at the front. This point is directly transferable to all walks of life in terms of reaching the customers who are fans and those who are maybe less fanatical.

True professionalism : True professionals in music are great at what they do, but they are also punctual and organised. Sheila learned this point from her father Pete. You may be the greatest technician in the world as a business leader, but if you are late for a meeting, your technical skills count for nothing. If one person is 10 minutes late at a meeting with six others present, a whole hour has been wasted.

As a Musical Director, Sheila emphasises the importance of treating everyone in the band with respect if you are to get the best out of the whole team. This of course includes the support team in a musical performance. I watched in awe as Sheila patiently put the band through it’s paces, talking to sound engineers to make sure the whole team were involved in the success of the enterprise. This rare glimpse into the secret life of a leader was a true masterclass meticulous preparation in itself.

Creativity and incubation : Sheila talked of the value of incubation in turning embryonic ideas into polished jewels. It’s a principle identified by Wallas in 1926, which I’m currently writing about in my Bloomsbury book, but forgotten by all but true creativity professionals.

Learning from family members : Sheila pointed out how she had learned intuitively from her father, just by listening intently and then mirroring the patterns, he played without ever having a formal music lesson. It’s a point I resonated strongly with, when I won a prize from Sir Richard Branson for my work on how leadership can often come from family members – here’s the post on what I learned from my father : Dear Dad.

Song for my father – Sheila performing with Pete Escovedo

Learning from giants

Paraphrasing Sheila when she was talking about learning from musical innovator and mentor George Duke: ‘We just closed our eyes and listened – we didn’t even know where the ‘one’ was.’

Sheila E’s new book is called The Beat of my own Drum. Check out her recent album Icon and her new club, The E Spot. Sheila’s work in schools, bringing the joy of music to underprivileged children and her community project Elevate Oakland. It’s a point I also resonated with, having also done community projects for primary schools.

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The Music of Business Peter Cook is a business academic, author, consultant and musician. He leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock, and provides Keynote speaking, Organisational Development and Business Coaching. You can follow him on twitter @Academyofrock. Peter is Rock ‘n’ Roll Innovation Editor at Innovation Excellence.

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