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Leadership: Learning From Musicians

I have been a musician most of my life. In small bands or orchestras that I have participated in I have had others lead me. Recently I had the opportunity to lead a small orchestra. It struck me that this is a powerful metaphor for what leadership consists of.

Leading other musicians was not something I had not done before, so, I was apprehensive whether I would be able to lead correctly or not. I wondered how the others would respond to me. But, most of all, I was scared about looking foolish.

I certainly had my concerns as to whether I would measure up.

Any time that I have been in front of a group of people the first thing that I sense is that people want to see someone who is in charge and in control. I have learned that people are very forgiving if you take responsibility for everything that occurs and remain accountable for the effects that you create.

As the leader of an orchestra you at time can’t help but look foolish. You can imagine the frustration of engaging musicians to perform and as things begin to unravel they all look to you to “fix it.” What I learned from this experience was that a good leader is willing to make mistakes. I also learned that clarity of communication is what great leaders focus on.

In my role as orchestra leader I did look foolish but deliberately. I was training a group of aspiring managers to step into their own leadership. My role was to make it convenient for them to take the lead. The end result was that each guest leader did so well that some of them even commented that I was an easy act to follow. I had succeeded in my mission.

One of my joys in life is to push people beyond any perceived level of self consciousness so that they can perform optimally without concerns about judgments.
My strategy has always been to push each people into situations where they are expected to lead the audience so that they discover their own potential. So, while a soundtrack played in the background I performed my act and quickly passed the baton to a random attendee and took the seat of my surprised successor, who then took a short stint as leader. And, so the game continued with each subsequent conductor passing on the baton to the next conductor at their whim. I was happy to see that the audience of aspiring leaders responded to each conductor. Their styles varied yet the audience caught on to each leader’s style and direction.

The lessons we had learned were then spelled out:

- Each leader’s style is different, and no style of leading is right or wrong. Finding your own authentic voice is a truly powerful and exhilarating experience.

- Leadership and Authority are not the same thing. People respond to the possibility of pleasure or the threat of pain but creating a consensus is what great leaders do.

- Leadership goals and gains depend upon your talent pool.

- Your leadership approach is in accordance with the rules you’re expected to follow.
- Your style is that of a leader you have been impressed with.
- Great Leaders Get The Best Out of Their Team

What was really gratifying was that each guest conductor remarked how different the experience had been from the other side of the table, so to speak. They enjoyed the experience much more than just sitting passively, and after going through the experience they could better appreciate the role, risk and responsibility of each who led that day.

Good conductors make beautiful music. The individual musicians playing the strings, brass, percussion and woodwinds put in their best. Similarly, the most effective leaders get the best out of their teams by tapping on their strengths and together they make beautiful music.

As a leader you need to connect with the various temperaments of your team. You cannot have the same style to deal with the quiet ones as you have with the aggressive ones. You must be able to appreciate the various talents of your group.

Shift the Focus

The most important change a leader has to make is the shift from being self conscious to the results and bringing out the best in others. Once you have overcome the anxiety about how you appear to other, things begin to fall in place. You can then give all your attention to the people in front of you and get the best out of them.

Submitted by:

Harald Anderson

Harald Anderson is the co-founder of http://www.artinspires.com a leading online Motivational Posters gallery. "When Art Inspires, Dreams Become Realities. Military Art




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