Guitar lessons and tone-deaf organizations

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RAYMUND B. HABARADAS

RAYMUND B. HABARADAS

It’s been several months since I started taking formal guitar lessons. I haven’t been able to put in much time for practice the past few weeks, though, because I had to go on field work in El Nido, and had to finish the final chapters of a textbook I am writing with a colleague. I thank my guitar instructor, Jasper Jimenez, for being patient with me, even if I haven’t been able to master the pieces that he has assigned, as quickly as expected. I guess it helps that I am twice as old as he is, old enough to be his father!

Playing the guitar has been an enjoyable experience. It has been a way of breaking my daily work routine, which is difficult to do, given that I am very much involved in my work as a teacher, researcher and administrator at De La Salle University. I realized, though, that even if my work has been a source of personal fulfilment, I have to find time for other interests and involvements—in my case, reading, cooking, working out and playing the guitar—because these make me a well-rounded person.

Learning how to play the guitar has also given me some valuable lessons that I can apply as a teacher and as a manager. Today, I focus on three: (a) learning the basics; (b) managing transitions; and (c) achieving balance.

First, it is important to get the basics right. In playing the guitar, having the right playing stance, holding the guitar neck properly, placing the fingers firmly on the frets must not be taken for granted. Doing these correctly makes for less tiring guitar sessions and prevents strain on the back, neck, arms and fingers. This allowed me to play the guitar much longer—and thus, practice the more difficult passages—before fatigue set in.


In management, the basics include setting SMART goals, hiring qualified people that are fit for the job, and setting appropriate work policies and procedures. Once these are in place, the manager does not have to worry about routine operational matters getting done because people are equipped to perform their jobs, and are properly guided by clear objectives and well-defined parameters. The manager can, thus, focus his attention on other matters that require more complex thinking and good judgement.

Second, it is essential to manage transitions. One thing that I find most difficult when playing the guitar is shifting from one chord to another, especially if the piece requires rapid chord transitions. I can only make progress by playing these passages over and over again, slowly at first, and then a little bit more quickly later on. I do this repeatedly until my left hand gets used to the transition, ultimately leading to seamless chord shifts. There are no shortcuts.

In business, the equivalent of chord shifts are different forms of organizational change. When management introduces a new reporting system, for instance, employees must be taught how the system works and must be given time to integrate it into their usual routines. When a new manager takes over the reins of a particular department, he and his employees will naturally undergo a period of getting to know each other and getting used to each other’s work styles. In either case, forcing the change is likely to result in “discordant notes.”

Third, achieving balance is key to playing beautiful music. My guitar teacher constantly reminds me how it is important for me to play my base notes more clearly so that they don’t get drowned by the melody. A good balance between the base notes and the melody gives the music texture, and makes it more interesting to the listener.

In organizations, there is always the danger that only the voice of management is heard. We often underestimate the value of employees’ ideas, just because they do not wield power in the organization. Employees’ voices are drowned by the familiar, yet monotonous, melody of productivity and profit. This could lead to tone-deaf organizations—efficient but unexciting places to work for.

I end by asking this question: Why can’t we have more organizations where management and employees ‘play beautiful music together’?

Raymund B. Habaradas is an Associate Professor at the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, where he teachesManagement of Organizations, Management Research, and Action Research. His does research on SME development, corporate social initiatives, workplace inclusion, and social enterprises. He welcomes comments at rbhabaradas@yahoo.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

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1 Comment

  1. I wish you well on your guitar lessons and I look forward to rocking with you in the future.