“The meaning of life is interaction.” – Utilising jazz improvisation in university leadership

Minna Frimodig, Linda Gerkman, Alina Savolainen, Tiina Väisänen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterProfessional


This paper studies jazz improvisation in university leadership from the viewpoint of distributed leadership. We will uncover what jazz improvisation as a metaphor for leadership means, and how it is suited to university management. The focal point of the paper is the literature review, in which we will study jazz improvisation as a metaphor for leadership from the viewpoint of distributed leadership. Another central element is the interview with university Rector Jari Perkiömäki, through which we reveal how he understands management through jazz improvisation and how he has implemented a leadership model based on jazz improvisation at the University of the Arts. In this paper, we will look at jazz improvisation as a metaphor for leadership, distributed leadership, and Rector Perkiömäki’s views on leadership via the concepts and themes of change, goals, competence, learning and risk-taking (cf. a learning organisation), a shared language and active listening (cf. organisational culture), supporting others (interaction), and taking responsibility. With the renewed university legislation, leadership and the role of the rector as head of the university has changed. This has also been noted in the assessments of the impact of the university legislation. In many universities, the strong concentration of power in the hands of the rector has been criticised, as it is perceived as weakening the academic community’s influence and collegial decisionmaking. Could jazz improvisation as a leadership metaphor and shared leadership improve the situation? We find that the most significant themes shared by jazz improvisation, distributed leadership, and the views of the leadership of the rector interviewed are interaction and the emphasis on skills/expertise to achieve set goals. Since both jazz bands and universities could be characterised as innovative specialist organisations, jazz improvisation should be suitable for university management. Jazz improvisation is especially suited to situations in which people need to brainstorm, and where the work process of an organisation or a group needs to be improved. We also observed that jazz improvisation as a leadership model is very much tied to personality. However, the features in jazz leadership that are suitable for university management are also present in the theory of distributed leadership, which is surely a more well known and widely adopted leadership model within universities.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTampereen korkeakouluhallinnon ja -johtamisen ohjelma asiantuntijoille : KOHA - ideasta innovaatioksi
EditorsJussi Kivistö, Vuokko Kohtamäki
Number of pages13
Place of PublicationTampere
PublisherHigher Education Group / Johtamiskorkeakoulu, Tampereen yliopisto
Publication date2017
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-03-0471-3
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeD2 Article in a professional reserarch book (incl. editor's introduction, manuals, guides)


  • 512 Business and Management


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