By Tim Hayes

Mr. B, the band director, pulled the door of the tiny rehearsal room shut and sat at the beyond-beat-up public school piano, as I took my place behind a well-worn set of public school drums.  My first-ever sophomore-year audition to make the high school Stage Band – or jazz band, as some would call it – had arrived, and the rising tide of nerves threatened to capsize my cranium at any moment.

“Get ready, Hayes – we’re gonna do some trading eights,” Mr. B shouted.

Trading eights?  What in the world is that?  The river of panic began cresting its banks.  Do I ask him, or will that scuttle my chances before we even get started?  Quickly, I made the right decision and asked for clarification.

Turns out, “trading eights” occurs when two musicians take turns each playing eight bars of improvisational music.  Mr. B would play eight bars on the piano as I kept time on the drums, then he would trade it over to me to cover eight bars of drum solo, and back and forth.  He wanted to see how well I could handle keeping the beat and then providing some nice flourishes on the drum kit.

He started us off, and it took a couple of go-rounds for me to get truly comfortable, but soon we were trading eights with confidence and skill and enjoyment.  Two musicians teaming up and taking turns.  Balance on the one hand, and the chance to really challenge yourself on the other.  What a great idea.

This principle has crossed my mind many times since those glory days in the high school band room.

Take the handful of supervisors over the years who operated daily under the erroneous and dangerous belief that their staffs worked for them, not the organization, and who regularly took credit for what went right and passed blame for what went wrong.  They never achieved balance, only discord, dissent, and disrespect.  Their character – or lack thereof – precluded allowing, much less celebrating, the innovation, initiative, or inspired effort of individuals on their teams, instead creating toxic work environments where no one ever extended an ounce of extra effort.

But then there were those bosses and co-workers – including many CEOs along the way – who understood the importance and essential value of building camaraderie, setting high expectations, providing the tools and encouragement and trust needed to meet those standards, and then guiding and correcting and supporting their people.  Trading eights with those folks?  I could have operated in that zone that all day, and most days did.  “Work” became a misnomer in those types of positive settings.

It’s not hard to think of examples where trading eights works great.  Try to think of it the next time a coworker needs advice with a task, or has just successfully completed a project.  Or the next time one of your kids wants to help dry the dishes or run the sweeper.  Or the next time a neighbor needs an extra pair of hands on a project.  Show your interest, let them prove their skill, then celebrate the achievement together.

Or, conversely, think of this principle the next time you’re tempted to zoom past a long line of traffic just to wedge your way in at the merge point.  Or when mature, rational debate gets swept aside in favor of personal insults and crass bullying.  Tsk-tsk.  For shame.  That’s not in the spirit of trading eights.  That’s being a selfish jerk, and I’ve got to believe people are capable of behaving better than that.

Showing mutual respect, maintaining a healthy and solid balance, and leaving room for individual excellence to shine.  Trading eights.  It’s truly not all that difficult, it’s more than worth the effort, and it makes life a little more tolerable and a lot more fun.

So thanks for the lesson, Mr. B.  I’ve never forgotten it and still try to live by it.  Don’t hit the mark 100% of the time, but am always shooting for it.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you scoring at home, I made Stage Band.

Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting