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Abbott: How Music Informs Leadership For HR Exec

Abbott's Executive Vice President of Human Resources Steve Fussell provides insights on the parallels between music and leadership.

Steve Fussell

(Originally published on LinkedIn)

Abbott is No. 10 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list

Music is a unifying language. No matter where you're from, what you do or how acoustically adept you may be – everyone can feel a beat or be moved by a song.

In addition to running corporate human resources at a global healthcare company, I'm a musician. I've played the piano since I was 6 years old and performed in a rock band for a number of years. Although between travel schedules and personal commitments, it can be hard to find time to play some days, it is my forever respite. But it's more than that – it's a skill through which I've also learned many other things, applicable to life. But perhaps most interestingly, applicable to good leadership.

Here are the parallels I see between music and quality leadership:

A Good Ear

The most important quality in a musician is the ability to play notes in tune.

There are two scenarios for musicians with "good ears:" They either have perfect pitch (they can sing an E-flat without a reference point) – or they have relative pitch (they can sing an E-flat if they first hear another note, like a C).

One is a talent you're born with and the other, one you acquire through hard work. Either works.

As a leader, I've learned that having a good ear is also about listening.

In an orchestra or band, you have to tune with instruments that are very different from you. Depending on whether you're playing a string or wind instrument, you're literally calibrated in different keys. Despite this, you still have to make music together.

You also have to have a good "ear" for balance in your teams. Pianists, for example, are all born with a greater natural ability in one hand over another. They must train their brains to strengthen the weaker hand; otherwise they never realize full mastery (and their songs would come across clumsily). The same applies to teams. A good leader recognizes the strengths and weaknesses, and must work diligently to create a better balance, whether through training or hiring.

A good leader knows how to listen to the various members of a team, tune with them and create a great product. A really good leader can add unique harmony – innovation if you will – to the sound because of his or her deep understanding of how the various sounds – different perspectives – are best blended together.

A Sense of Timing

Songs, like markets and business cycles, are somewhat predictable. There's the introduction, a gradual build-up, an exciting climax and a final act. Musicians know this and they plan for it – with what bow strokes they choose to take (how long or short, fast or slow), when to breathe and how quickly to let that breath out – and even how quickly to pick their instruments back up after a period of strategic rest.

Similarly, leaders must anticipate and plan for business cycles or market events. You can bet that over a long period of time, the markets will swing down and up. Over time, a business cycle will go from debt to profit to extreme growth to a lull. A good business can reinvent itself and start a new movement in its song. Abbott has reinvented itself successfully for 128 years. Under the direction of Miles White (nine straight years onBarron's World's Best CEOs list), in just the last few years, we've successfully spun off our U.S. proprietary pharma business into a separate company and made our largest acquisition ever with St. Jude Medical.

The bottom line is, both music and business are anticipatory. A good leader knows this and plans for each phase.

The Ability to Improvise

You know someone is good at improvising when you don't realize at first that's what they're doing.

Jazz musicians and rappers are known and lauded for their ability to write music in their minds, composing in real time. Their words rhyme and fit the syllabic space allotted to them.

Improvisation is not about filling space or convincing the listener that you were prepared, when in fact, you were not. It's about coming up with genius material to satisfy a need.

Skilled musicians who improvise in a group or band are well versed at listening and communicating, although in a language most of us don't use every day. Despite being a motor skill, musicians riffing in a call-and-response style are actually communicating with each other, listening and talking to each other at the same time. Ask yourself how many times you've felt this in sync with your team and imagine how productive you'd be if you were.

Authentic Connections 

We all have a radar for authenticity – we know when people are being genuine and when they're not. Similarly in music, you can hear passion from a musician as clearly as you might hear ambivalence. If someone were to pluck out "Moonlight Sonata" without feeling, it wouldn't even sound like the same song. If they were to play different notes or rhythms, too, the song would change – so in a way, the first step toward authenticity is mastery.

People don't buy albums they don't find genuine. Similarly, people don't follow leaders they don't find authentic.

If your team members can feel that you authentically care about their lives and their needs – both at work and at home – they're going to want to work hard for you. And you will go far as a leader.

Abbott: Top Internship for Healthcare and Tech

Interns have spoken: Abbott is the top college internship program for healthcare and tech & engineering.

Originally Published by Abbott.

Abbott recognizes the need to develop its future leaders early, and has been named the top healthcare and tech & engineering internship program by Vault.

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New Study Shows Abbott's Novel Diagnostic Test Could Help Rule Out Heart Attacks Earlier

Preliminary research indicates that a diagnostic test currently in development, that is done at the patient's side in minutes, has similar accuracy to a high-sensitive troponin test for early rule out of a heart attack .

Originally Published by Abbott.

For someone experiencing cardiac symptoms in the emergency room, every minute matters as physicians determine whether someone is having a heart attack. New data, published online in JAMA Cardiology, found a new blood test under development that is done right at the patient's side in as little as 15 minutes could identify nearly three-fifths (56.7 percent) of people at low-risk of experiencing a heart attack, similar to the results of a High Sensitive Troponin-I blood test done in the laboratory setting.

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Abbott: Partnering for a Healthier Future

Abbott supports the First Ladies of Africa in the fight to end AIDS in children and keep mothers healthy.

Originally Published by Abbott.

In countries around the world, Abbott is working across its businesses and in partnerships with others to create healthier futures for families. One example: since 2014, Abbott's diagnostics business has supported the work of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA – pictured above) to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa, particularly among pregnant women and children – who are among the most vulnerable populations impacted by the disease.

At an OAFLA meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City, Abbott and several other organizations are being recognized by OAFLA for longstanding partnership and support, including public-private partnerships that bring together technical, financial and other resources to focus on a global health challenge such as HIV/AIDS.

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Abbott: DRG Stimulator, A Life Changing Technology for Chronic Pain.

The new technological DRG therapy may be the key to easing daily tasks for those with chronic pain.

Originally Published by Abbott.

Living with chronic pain affects not just your body but also your mind. It can make getting around and getting along equally difficult.

But with innovation in health technology comes hope. Abbott has developed a new device found to be more effective than traditional therapy at relieving chronic pain.

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Abbott: Expediting Blood Testing With i-Stat

The portable, handheld i-STAT Alinity delivers quick blood test results anywhere you are.

Originally Published by Abbott.

Every day, countless blood samples are tested all around the world for one purpose: to help diagnose and treat medical conditions. From the couple eagerly awaiting the results of a pregnancy blood test to a worried cancer patient hoping for more answers, diagnostic blood tests give vital insight into what's happening underneath the skin.

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Abbott: Freestyle Libre 14 Day, Now FDA Approved

Abbott's flash glucose monitor now FDA-approved for two weeks of use in U.S. between sensor changes.

Originally Published by Abbott.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved FreeStyle Libre 14 day— Abbott's revolutionary continuous glucose monitoring system. In the U.S., you can wear the sensor up to 14 days with high accuracy.

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At Abbott, You Look Like An Engineer

Decades before #ILookLikeAnEngineer, Abbott paved the way for a non-profit dedicated to diversity in STEM.

Originally Published by Abbott.


Remember this? A few years ago, a young software engineer was featured in a recruiting advertisement, only to be accused of not being an actual engineer. Frustrated with the assertion, Isis Wenger started a movement to break the stereotype of what an engineer should look like.

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Abbott Receives FDA Approval for Next-Generation MitraClip Device to Treat People with Leaky Heart Valves

MitraClip is the gold-standard minimally invasive alternative to open-heart surgery for people needing mitral valve repair.

Originally Published by Abbott.

Abbott announced it received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a next-generation version of its leading MitraClip® heart valve repair device used to repair a leaky mitral valve without open-heart surgery. The transcatheter clip-based therapy, now on a third generation of product innovations, has been used to treat more than 65,000 patients worldwide over the last ten years.

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