I spend quite a bit of my time sitting in rehearsal rooms or watching performances of musical ensembles doing their thing. There are so many analogies we can make with how a large ensemble makes beautiful harmonies and succinct music with how we are choosing to run our organisations or teams.
Bear in mind that I am not a musician’s big toe. I work with them as an enabler – so this is really an outsiders take on what happens through observation and my take on how that reflects in the leadership models that I uphold.
There is quite a bit of work and observations already done on the role of the conductor and how we can take pointers about different kinds of leadership from different conducting styles.
For me there are a few key points:
1. The conductor has the score – they hold the vision and a detail of everyone’s role in that vision.
So a leader has the opportunity to really create and hold a vision; a big picture. More than that, they have the responsibility of understanding how all the pieces can come together and create that vision. What is needed to create the vision and who is best placed to make that happen? They also realise that many different types of musicians are going to be needed, even within one instrument distinctions are made.
2. A part of the conductor’s role is to offer an interpretation of that vision and communicate it clearly to the players so that becomes a shared understanding.
Communication is of most importance here. An ability to communicate with clarity and be understood will create the synergy the orchestra needs. I have sat in rehearsals where talking through a particular point or bar can take what feels like a huge amount of time. Neither the conductor nor the players are happy to move on until they have reached a shared understanding of how to proceed at that point. How much time do we put into gaining clarification on points in other teams? From my experience there is a lot of assumption going on without actual agreement.
3. The musician then interprets that communication.
Each individual musician will bring their own interpretation of the piece. Nuances are what makes their playing theirs. A great conductor will bring out those nuances.
4. Each musician has their role specifically mapped out for them. It may not always be dots on a page, but a direction and energy of where that music needs to go is agreed on and upheld to the best of their ability.
A musician brings their interpretation following the vision as lead by the conductor. Each musician trusts the others in the ensemble to do their part, and they rely and support each other as parts of a larger whole. The violin will never play the clarinet part. Everyone has a role and is respected for their individual selves.
There is so much to learn here. As I have observed the rehearsal process, the one thing that really sticks out to me is that leaving ego at the door enables the process to run so much more smoothly than when there are egos present. This is not to say that a sense of your own personal contribution and self worth is left at the door, absolutely not. What is left at the door is a sense of one instrument being more important than another. Even within the hierarchy of an orchestra where there are lead instruments and non-leads, none is more important. The sense of the cleaner being as important as the CEO as important as the sales person as important as the IT person all working to make the vision happen. Knowing that we are all doing the best we can with the resources we have.
5. Listening to each other is vital.
If you don’t take the time to stop and listen to the vision and then to listen, really listen to each other, then everything will go off the rails. This listening is not only in the verbal communication that might happen; conductors are the silent one in the group – there is nothing verbal once performance hits. The communication is body language between the members of the orchestra and the conductor, 100%. The players will also use body language to communicate, and they will also listen intently to the language of the music that they are making and communicate with that.
A Relevant TED Talk: Lead like the great conductors