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Leadership and the Space Between the Notes


French composer Claude Debussy famously said “music is the space between the notes”. It’s the pause between musical phrases that causes a cessation of extraneous thought and fills us with anticipation for the next one.

What if we thought of our lives as musical compositions? Would it be important to fill every moment with activity? Or, should we focus on the space between the notes?

In our busy lives, we usually start our day diving into our email. It’s tempting to spend a day hitting Reply to All. It keeps us busy. And, we’re supposed to be busy, aren’t we?

Try this…

Shut down your email for a few hours. Clear your desk of clutter. Create some space between activities.


Think of the last thing you did that you truly enjoyed. Did you create a work of art? Cook a fabulous meal? Build something in your workshop? Develop a clear and thoughtful business strategy? Did you carve out some time for family and friends and create a new lasting memory?

Whatever it was, it was likely the result of a focused effort, devoid of the clutter that often rules our lives.

Executive chefs use a system called “mise-en-place”. It’s a way of organizing and executing a plan. It transforms the lives of its practitioners through focus and self-discipline.

Mise-en-place recognizes that time is precious. Organizing according to its method creates space, focuses our attention and develops self-respect. Its adherents are zealous, describing it as a “Zen-like thing”.

Leadership requires a clear mind. It requires that one slow down… pause… clarify… articulate… and communicate.

Can you articulate the desired direction of your team? Can you tell them where you’re going, why you’re going there and how you’re going to get there? Can you say it clearly? Is the message consistent every time you say it?


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Music without space between the notes is cacophonous.

A life that is so busy that we have no time to think – to contemplate – is unenjoyable.

An organization that jumps from crisis to crisis is ineffective.

Our happiness derives from our experiences. We can’t have great experiences without the space to do so.

It is incumbent upon leaders to create space between the notes… for our team… our colleagues… our families.   Try it. I promise you’ll love it.

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