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Copy the Leader: Jon Sabillón

Jayhawks in leadership positions are everywhere you look, including through the Jayhawk Career Network. KU Alumni, in partnership with SumnerOne, is highlighting Jayhawk leaders who are models for others in their industries with our “Copy the Leader” program.

Jon Sabillón, c’11, is an international DJ, entrepreneur, and music futurist. We sat down with Jon to learn what leadership means to him.

What do you do in your work?

I’m an international DJ, entrepreneur, and music futurist.

I started DJing at KJHK at KU as an undergrad. Since then, I have played 1,000+ shows in dozens of cities across America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. I’m the only DJ in the world to receive an Ambassadorship from the United Nations specifically for my DJ work. Now, I run a DJ lifestyle company that has been recognized for helping reform DJ culture to be healthier, less stagnant, and more inclusive, as well as for designing my own controllers and inventive methods for DJing.

While getting my master’s degree at Berklee College of Music, I founded the world’s first record label for robots and developed novel ways to compose music using quantum computers, repressed memories, and the night sky. The record label has since evolved into a non-profit foundation centered on discovering new frontiers in music, including using music to communicate with animals, investigate non-human cultures, and to experience non-temporality.

What are the qualities of a good leader?

When I think of the ideal leader, what comes to mind are various characters from fiction; because they are fantasy they exemplify obvious and exaggerated qualities that are easier to identify and then aspire to. Characters like Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek), Aragorn (Lord of the Rings), Captain America (Marvel), and Moana (Disney) offer fantastic models for leadership. These characters share strong values, adaptability, empathy, integrity, and resilience. They trust and empower their team members and are able to keep their egos in place. They also have a clear and vivid vision of a collective future, even while the path there is almost always unknown and perilous. While their external adventures are what they are famous for, it is really their rich inner lives and journeys that are what makes them effective leaders, and without tending to their gardens of the heart and soul, they likely wouldn’t be as compelling or inspirational.

How do you practice leadership at your job?

The most important thing for me is being comfortable with ambiguity. I am perpetually in uncharted waters (sometimes literally) and as such it is essential for me to maintain a strong vision of what I’m trying to accomplish and the reasons why. Many of the things I’ve worked on and continue to pursue have never been done before. So, there is a fair amount of skepticism, confusion, or incredulity whenever I’m communicating my projects and objectives. People have very strong opinions and reactions around concepts of creativity, artificial intelligence, the business of music, consciousness (especially regarding machines), and so forth, and there is also an understandable layer of fear with these topics. While I always welcome differing views and perspectives, sometimes people will oppose my ideas and efforts no matter what. It is in these moments where it’s important to not take anything personally and as much as possible to cut through the delusions and outcries of the ego. There is a Buddhist axiom that says, “Whatever you do is evil to someone,” and so my finite bandwidth is better spent on identifying curious individuals and organizations that are similarly energized and excited by the possibilities of the “weird” in the Shakespearean sense. As the Sufi poet Rumi says, “Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”

What makes a team or group successful?

A group’s success will vary depending on its composition, goals, and circumstances, which are sometimes outside their control. Generally speaking, the most important factor is sharing a clear vision. Even if internal conflict or difficulties arise, which they always will, a compelling vision and raison d’être will allow the team to overcome these obstacles. It’s helpful to recognize that everyone on a team has a purpose and to also respect and be open to a diversity of viewpoints and skills . A supportive environment where you can take risks and ask questions without fear will benefit everyone.

It’s also a good idea to have a definition of success that everyone can be on board with, both as individuals and as a group. External outcomes are important but so are intentions, as well as our emotional, mental, and spiritual development. Life is not a dress rehearsal; this is the show, and one’s time together with a group and team is often more valuable than whatever specific goal you set out to accomplish.

Strong, compassionate, and rational leadership brings it all together to ensure that everyone can navigate challenges and be empowered to succeed individually and collectively.

How can leaders in your industry help their organizations adapt to change?

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The Copy the Leader program is brought to you by SumnerOne. SumnerOne is one of the largest independent office technology dealers in the Midwest, with offices in Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. We’re a family of respected companies united by ONE goal: to exceed your expectations and help you get the most from your investments in printing, IT, and document technology.

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