The Harmony of Leadership

Author – IAM Team 

Having been training managers and leaders for over 20 years now I have often used an orchestra as a metaphor for teams and the conductor as a metaphor for the leader. Below are my 10 key similarities and learning messages.1.Have a clear vision.

An orchestra conductor has a clear vision. This vision has associated plans and strategies, i.e. the musical score that provides the detail of what each performer should be doing at any time, but it also has the conductor’s interpretation and personal view of how the piece will sound. Do you have a clear vision of your end goal? Do you have a plan (musical score) that will help you achieve your vision? 

2. Lead from the front and be visible.

The conductor stands on a podium so everyone in the orchestra can see them. This is the only way the orchestra can stay in alignment, with each player starting and stopping at the appropriate time.

Are you a visible leader who is visible to your employees and your teams? Or are you not spending time with your team and causing misalignment across the business?

3. Know when to delegate

The conductor delegates and focuses on what only he or she can do. The conductor doesn’t do everything. They don’t sell the tickets or participate (usually) in the preliminaries. They don’t even make sure that the orchestra is in tune. (The concertmaster does that.) They stay off stage until it is time for them to do what only they can do—lead. Leaders learn to delegate or burn out, it’s that simple. One of my favourite training clichés comes from time management – ‘the cemetery is full of indispensable people’. Whether or not you can do a job better than your staff you have to learn, and quickly, that you don’t have the time to do everything. Of course, if you hire the correct people, support them with training and motivate them then you won’t have to do everything yourself. Great leaders also know when to lead and when to let others lead. Do you know when to take the lead? 

4. Establish roles and responsibilities.

Orchestras have clearly defined roles and responsibilities and everyone knows what they are. Each musician knows when to play and how to play, when to come to the fore and when to drop to the background. The conductor will often be a musician, but they are rarely the best technically and they don’t actually play an instrument during the performance. In the workplace everyone on your team must fully understand their respective roles and responsibilities and how they fit into the structure of the team, department and the organisation as a whole.

5.  Provide coaching and feedback.

A conductor is not just there to keep everyone on time. They also act as the team coach, working to get the best out of each individual and the collective performance of the orchestra. They provide encouragement when needed (especially if there is a particularly challenging section in the music), and direction/redirection as needed – play faster, slower, quieter, louder and so forth. Coach and give feedback in a way that builds the confidence and capabilities of your team. Look at how well (or poorly) you’re communicating progress, direction and your vision to your team. Identify learning opportunities, skills that can be strengthened and gaps that need to be addressed. Learning is one of the most important aspects of successful leadership. 

6. Take training seriously…including your own

With a new piece of music an orchestra practises relentlessly until they are as close to perfect as possible. The best concerts are well rehearsed no matter how great the conductor is. Are you practicing your leadership? or do you assume that you will automatically produce great leadership “music without practice”. Great conductors, and leaders, get the best out of their people at the right time, but they can’t do that if the musician doesn’t have the necessary skills. 

7. Act with integrity

The conductor leads with his heart and great conductors are swept up in the music. They don’t just play with their head; they also play with their heart. You can read it on their face and you can sense it in their movement; they are fully present and not just going through the motions. They have integrity. A conductor is not just there to keep everyone on time… Are you passionate about the vision and mission of your team? Your department? Your organisation? Do you lead with passion and conviction? A leader’s passion is infectious and generally seeps through the organisation.

8. Support your Team

The conductor keeps their back to the audience. Conductors are aware of the audience but their focus is on the players and their performance. The only time the conductor stops to acknowledge the audience is before the playing begins and after it is finished. Other than that, they are focused on delivering an outstanding product.

They ensure their musicians feel significant, accepted and secure. A conductor needs their musicians. Likewise, a leader needs their followers and needs to take time to develop their followership. As a manager you will always have to be aware of the ‘bigger picture’, that’s part of your role. It’s something you are doing on behalf of the team so they can do their bit and you can keep them on the right track. But no-one else will look after your team and they will soon know if you aren’t supporting them.

9. Understand that small things matter

The conductor is aware of his or her gestures and their impact. A conductor can’t afford to make an unintentional gesture. Everything means something; they have to be precise or their musicians will not be able to follow.  The flick of the wrist, the raising of an eyebrow, and the closing of the eyes all have meaning. A good conductor can’t afford to be careless with his public demeanour.

Everything you do as a leader has to be intentional and clear. If you are vague you will be interpreted differently by each member of staff. 

10. Share success

The conductor shares the spotlight. When the concert is over, and the audience is clapping, the conductor turns to the audience and takes a bow. A good conductor immediately turns to the orchestra and invites them to stand and bow as well. They share the glory with their colleagues, realising that without them, the music would not be possible.

Do you share your leadership glory with your team? Are you a leader that gives credit back to the team? 



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