I heard this interesting story on NPR…
My kids often accuse me of starting many stories with “I heard this interesting story on NPR” so I’ll apologize now for starting this way – but it’s true – I did. In this story, the NPR reporter had the opportunity to sit in on a conducting class led by the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop (also known as the Maestra in case you enjoy interesting words).
While I did enjoy the actual story – I found myself somewhat surprised by the number of parallels between conducting music and leading teams. I don’t think that was the point of the story, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea. And while some of these similarities were somewhat obvious, some mentioned in the piece represented hidden nuggets of leadership qualities that I hadn’t considered before:
- The Conductor has a deep connection to the music, the orchestra and the audience – all at the same time. The successful leader has a clear and focused understanding of the purpose of the team, the members of the team and those the team serves – whether it be internal or external constituents.
- The Conductor feels like she is succeeding when the work feels effortless. If she is having to get too involved or feels as if she has to walk on eggshells, it may not result in a note-worthy performance (sorry for the pun). The successful leader is able to gauge the team to determine how involved to become. When the team is running smoothly, the leader is able to let things ‘be’ without continually trying to ‘fix’ what may not be broken. This isn’t the same as becoming complacent, but it does entail trusting (and maybe even celebrating) when things are working well instead of managing to the next crisis.
- The Conductor knows that things are not going well when individuals in the orchestra are playing independently, blocking the opportunity for true collaboration and cohesion. The successful leader is aware when the team members begin to disconnect. This could be based on many reasons, some of which may be outside the control of the leader. Even so, this awareness may lead a conversation that could more quickly bring the member back into the team or assist a transition if that’s needed.
- The Conductor knows that when you are struggling, “the orchestra can really save you, or they can follow you” (quote from Ms. Alsop). The successful leader understands that his success is dependent on the team. However, the team’s success may also be dependent on the leader. It’s the mutuality that is the secret sauce and when it’s in the right balance, it can be magic.
- The Conductor is on point to be a “good messenger for a composer’s work.” The successful leader understands that part of her job is to clearly understand and communicate the connection between the team, their work and the mission and objectives of the organization. The leader can assess when this alignment is missing or broken and take steps to intervene as required.
- The Conductor knows that every movement or gesture sends a message to the orchestra. The successful leader understands that many eyes are on him. His words and action, both explicit and implicit, matter. This doesn’t require that the leader lose his individuality, but rather reinforces the importance of having alignment between the words used, the actions observed and the results achieved.
- The Conductor doesn’t actually make any sound. Their job is to motivate the orchestra to create the best sound possible to provide the best experience for the audience. The successful leader may appear to not actually ‘do’ anything. They may not be on the line making the widgets or answer the phones or crunch the numbers. However, the leaders’ work is to empower their team members to be the very best that they can be, delivering the best performance, or product, to the organization and ultimately the customer.
Leader as Conductor
When you think about it, the Conductor is taking someone else’s creation and giving it to the world through the orchestra. As leaders, we are doing a similar thing. We are taking the vision, mission, products, and services from our organizations and sharing these with our constituents through our team members. It’s a big responsibility but when it works, it can be incredibly gratifying. And while we may not get a literal standing ovation when things go well, we may realize the success in other ways, including our own satisfaction and increased employee engagement.
I’m including a link to the actual story. Give it a listen and then you can tell your kids all about it! Maybe you’ll receive fewer eye-rolls for your “NPR story”!
If you are interested in hearing more about how TLS may be helpful to you as a leader or leaders within your organization – contact us!