The Art of Leadership

A leader stands on the podium – her back to the crowd. Her purpose is to call those in her sphere of influence to release their best gifts. The beauty of the music can change all those who hear.

My dad was an orchestra conductor and understood all of the instruments well enough to instruct and lead the symphony into an excellent performance. His best gift was helping others develop and express their talents. As a musician and an educator, his role in shaping the musician, leader, and communicator I have become is irrevocable. I’ve always been intrigued by the individual in the orchestra who doesn’t make a sound on the stage, but is responsible for the sonic output and influence of the entire group of musicians.

There is far more to a conductor’s life than the moment the house lights dim and baton in hand, he raises his arms to lead the orchestra. There are hours of practice and time spent with individual musicians clarifying their parts. Studying the score, strategizing the execution of the piece and listening to other renderings are all part of the preparation. There are the moments wondering how this work can possibly come together and bring honor to the intent of the composer.

Life is a like a symphony and business at its best has an artistic component. Leaders in our culture are like conductors. They are charged with the responsibility of aligning the many musicians to get on the same page, play in tune and release a sound that will create a wave of resonance with a measurable effect. This is the art of leadership.

Three Vital Roles of a Leader

The most obvious role of a leader is to set the tempo. The power of unity is undeniable. In the 1800s, a policy was established concerning soldiers that when marching over bridges, they had to break step. The rhythmic cadence of a unit can create enough energy to literally cause a bridge to collapse. When an organization harnesses the power of unity, amazing things can happen. Walls of opposition can be brought down and the reverberations from a team working in concert with one another are remarkable. Henry David Thoreau’s famous lines, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer…” are certainly poetic and appropriate in certain circumstances. But when you are part of a team – hearing – and getting in rhythm with the leader is the way to get things done.

A leader gives life and expression to a vision. Division means two visions. If the principal musician of a section has a different vision for execution than the leader, the lack of harmony and tension can distract the whole orchestra. Every member of the team is necessary and valuable, but there has to be agreement. So it goes in the marketplace. Pierre Boulez, a legendary composer-conductor, says, “You have to impose your will – not with a hammer, but you have to be able to convince people of your point of view. Conducting is more difficult than playing a single instrument,” claims Boulez. “You have to know the culture, to know the score, and to project what you want to hear.” This conductor’s perspective offers a beautiful description of effective leadership.

An effective leader draws out the potential in others by provoking them to give their best effort. Effective practice can be tedious but produces a level of excellence that eludes the faint-hearted who quit when it gets tough. Deliberate practice demands getting out of our comfort zone. Only activities that keep us in the learning zone are going to contribute to growth and improvement. In addition, practice without feedback can be ineffective. We might get irritated by the prodding of the conductor/leader, but when they have our best interests at heart, we need to press through annoyance and at least try their suggestions. There’s a proverb that says, “Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another.” You might not know you’re playing flat unless an objective listener tells you.

The word maestro is typically associated with music but in actuality means “a master of any art.”
Mastery is marvelous to behold, whether it applies to the magic a customer service representative works with a disgruntled customer, or the dynamic presentation of a CEO to a Board of Directors. When you are a master at what you do, you will reach a realm of fulfillment that will inspire you and those who surround you. That will be your strength long after the applause has faded.

For lessons on leadership and life, check out Win From Within: The Heart of Success and Significance.

And just for fun, check out this conductor who clearly loves what she does. This is the art (and heart) of leadership …

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