I recently saw a “TED” video in which the renowned orchestra leader Itay Talgam, pointed to several 20th century conductor ‘greats’ and the lessons their leadership held for business leaders of today. The connection to
business leadership is especially fascinating once we realize that no verbal exchanges take place when conducting the orchestra and still, the group, or team if you will, have the potential of making the most beautiful music … and that requires cooperation, willingness to be part of a team and a sense of responsibility both to the individual musician’s role and that of the full orchestra.
Appropriately intrigued I wanted to explore the connection between conducting music and leading an organization, a department or a group. I came upon an article in which Jazz maestro Dominic Alldis was interviewed entitled “Symphony of Leadership”. As you to read the key points he has identified, forget that this is being written from a music perspective and realize the similarity to effectively leading within a business organization: The most significant connections include:
- Conducting represents the corporate world.
“It conveys metaphors of collaboration (not competition), appreciation of diversity and creativity, and culture and tradition.
- There is a periodic ‘check-in’ with the leader/conductor
Although an individual’s focus is on their personal tasks, this provides the reassurance from their leader that they are on the right path and serves to add energy to their performance. Being an effective team player also requires periodic acknowledgement of the leader at key moments while continuing to perform in one’s specific area.
- A leader is crucial to bring together varying voices …
and give it a sense of unity.
- It conveys the importance of listening quietly and patiently.
- The conductor is akin to leading in business.
The making of eye contact with each of his team members, gesticulating with his hands and managing toconvey to each the highs and lows that they must take in order to produce beautiful music.” Such eye contact and other non-verbal communication allows people to know they are respected, have a true value and are contributing to the whole.
- The conductor is the only person in the orchestra who makes no sound.
He/she is merely there to help his team members make music. “This just goes to prove that leadership is never about control or dominance, it is all about support, understanding, and effective and timely communication.”
Last year Steven Gambardella authored an interesting article entitled ‘Manage Like A Conductor’ in which he relates what managing like a conductor actually means. The points he makes are as follows:
- Conductors orchestrate collaboration.
The conductor does not need to tell the members of the orchestra what to do, the conductor simply endeavors to achieve optimum collaboration among the orchestra from their privileged vantage point.
- Conductors are always a step ahead.
They need to be a step ahead because they need to ensure that the orchestra plays the music as best as possible. Similarly, the good manager always needs to be a step ahead. Planning is essential, and managers “cue in” the resource as needed.
- Conductors do not play …
Even if every instinct is telling you to work on something, even if you (think you) could do a better job, you should not get actively involved in your team’s tasks. Delegation is essential to good management: you must ensure that you’re getting the best from your team and, love it or hate it, that’s a full-time job.
- Neither can conductors play.
It is doubtful that any conductor could play all the instruments as well as the members of their orchestra. There are many aspects of a team’s work that the manager will not be qualified in, or even have a clue how to do. And that’s fine. You don’t need to know everything about accounting, marketing or communications or whatever type of team you manage. If your team members know more than you, it could well be a sign that you’re doing a great job of managing them.
- Conductors set the pace.
It’s all about continual feedback to the performers. Not controlling them, but rather letting the performers thrive in a framework that evolves as the composition progresses. Great managers balance workloads, ensure the pace is right so that productivity does not come at the cost of rest and creativity (or work-life balance). It’s the output (achievements) of a team, not the input (effort), that’s important.
- Conductors never take the credit.
Never take the credit for your team’s work. The conductor will always bow to applause, but they will also quickly divert the applause to the musicians. No one person is responsible for teamwork.
- Conductors have the best spot in the house
Management gets bad press because of the cult of leadership. But it’s gratifying to be a manager. It’s wonderful to see people develop, to see your team come together to become a greater force than a sum of its parts.
Wouldn’t it be interesting … and potentially valuable … to compare your leadership style or that of
those around you to an orchestra conductor? Doing so and making some adjustments to one’s personal style and the approach might definitely sharpen the music and the results on all fronts.