Lessons from the Life of Pat Martino

Pat Martino was a virtuoso of the jazz guitar world. He suffered a brain aneurysm in the 1980s that wiped his memory and caused him to forget how to play the guitar. Determined to ascend to where he was and beyond, he studied recordings of himself playing before the incident to reprogram his mind and retrain his body. He returned with more vitality than ever before, re-emerging as one of the most distinguished guitarists of all time. Sadly, Mr. Martino passed away yesterday, which caused me to pause and reflect on the lessons I have learned from him and jazz music in general.

Pat Martino, Jazz Guitarist

What does Pat Martino’s life teach us about being better leaders, executives, and CEOs?

Pat’s story is one of rediscovery, perseverance, and improvement. After his brain injury, he didn’t allow anything to get in the way of his determination to play again. His focus and work to climb back to the pinnacle of the jazz guitar world run parallel with the effort and determination business leaders and their teams must possess to succeed in today’s post-Covid, AI-enabled, fast-paced business world.

In Mr. Martino’s jazz world, hundreds of notes fly by at light speed. Deciding on the “right” notes, chords, and rhythms to play happens in a split second. There is no waiting for decision-making because it is a live performance. As in the corporate business world, professional jazz is not a world for the faint of heart. Masters of their instruments, like Pat Martino, teach us that it’s possible and necessary to learn, master, and refine our craft constantly. There is always more to learn. Having a vision, knowing what to retain, improve upon, and when to improvise is crucial to achieving professional success.

There is a special connection between leadership and creative thinking. It requires the development of insight, understanding of what to communicate and when, and a certain balance of dynamics to keep the audience engaged and responding to the consonance (harmony) and dissonance (chaos) within our companies.

These skills require passion, dedication, and perseverance. Walking the road of business leadership can be fraught with challenges. Improvised music forces us to think creatively like jazz musicians and develop the ability to stay true to the vision we have in mind while remaining flexible and improvising when situations call for it. Pat Martino decided to seize his challenge to rebuild a more excellent version of himself. He climbed back to the pinnacle of the jazz world. What’s stopping you and your team from doing the same?