Thursday, August 16, 2018

Leadership at the Symphony

Guest post from Barbara Mitchell:
 
I’ve always loved the performing arts—symphony, ballet, theatre, live music concerts…doesn’t matter what but seeing a live performance is powerful! While enjoying a live performance, it became obvious to me that, in addition to hearing great music or watching talented dancers, I was also seeing examples of good leadership.

Members of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts are sometimes invited to attend a rehearsal of the National Symphony Orchestra.  It’s quite an experience to sit in the beautiful Concert Hall and watch the musicians come in wearing very casual clothes as opposed to their formal evening attire, chatting with each other while tuning up their instruments.  But when the conductor arrives, it is all business.
The first time I attended a rehearsal, I expected that the orchestra would play a few bars and the conductor would stop and give them feedback but that’s not what happened. the way it was. The conductor led the orchestra almost all the way through the piece without stopping. When he finally paused them and began providing feedback it was clear that the musicians were listening intently—he had their total focus. He pointed out specific bars where he wanted certain instruments to play louder, softer, faster, or slower—all from his memory of what he had just heard. He hadn’t taken a note while they were playing—he was totally focused on what he was hearing. What an amazing gift to be able to listen to so many sounds and hear each one individually as well as in total!

When the conductor (leader) pointed out the very specific changes he wanted to hear, his orchestra (team) listened closely. He complimented musicians who had done something special and then they replayed specific portions of the symphony. When he raised his baton, they were ready to play at the exact right bar of the music because he gave them clear directions.
What an example of leadership and followership in action. The conductor as a leader demonstrated he was listening to his team. He showed that he understood he couldn’t make music without them—he could wave his baton around all day, but if they weren’t sitting in front of him, focused on his direction, he would be totally ineffective.

Today’s business leaders could should learn to listen more closely to their employees, praise them when appropriate, point out needed changes, and acknowledge how important each one is to the success of the organization—in other words, set clear expectations, provide frequent feedback and development opportunities, praise when appropriate, listen to the team, hold people accountable, and let them know where their work fits in the overall objectives of the organization.  That’s leadership!
At the end of the first piece, they took a short break while chairs were rearranged on the stage. Some musicians came back while others who weren’t needed for the next piece did not return. I see another lesson here about how leaders need to know the strengths of their employees in order to put the most effective teams in place—teams that take advantage of the strengths of the participants. This piece featured a world-famous violinist.  I wondered if the conductor would lead differently in the presence of a star but it sounded as if she and the conductor  were almost operating as one as she played her solo with the conductor bringing the orchestra in to provide background and harmony.

Business leaders can learn from a symphony conductor and others in the performing arts. Leaders must be great listeners who know the strengths of those they manage. Strong leaders know how to put the best team together to maximize the organization’s success. Leadership and harmony lead to great things—not just in music but in the marketplace.
 
The Manager’s Answer Book is an easy-to-use guide written in a question-and-answer format that focuses on many aspects of managing, broken down into the following categories:

- Getting started—moving from peer to manager, setting goals, managing projects, resources and much more.

- Developing your management skills—communicating, delegating, motivating, and facilitating.

- Building your management team: hiring, firing, and everything in-between.

- Creating your personal brand—building credibility for yourself, your team, and your department.

- Managing up, down, and around—working with people and functions in your organization.

- Avoiding potential land mines—conflict, change, and risk.

- Recognizing legal pitfalls—navigating the haze of laws and regulations.


Barbara Mitchell is an author, speaker, and business consultant. She is the coauthor of The Manager’s Answer Book, The Big Book of HR, The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook, The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book and The Essential HR Handbook. After a long career with Marriott International, she is now Managing Director of The Mitchell Group and works with a variety of clients to help them hire, develop, engage, and retain the best talent available. She resides in the Washington, DC area.

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