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Pass the Baton - Six Essential Leadership Qualities

Updated: Jul 1, 2019

We all love a good scenario-based question – here’s one to try out for size……

  • You have been asked to report the next day to a completely different workplace to your norm;

  • A team of 80 people, for whom you will be responsible, have also been asked to go to the workplace – although they are highly skilled in what they do and bring specialised equipment with them, you have not worked with them previously and they have not worked together as a team before;

  • You are given three hours to work with this team to create a product. The product is something that you are all familiar with but you are required to develop a new variant of the product – you may use the time however you wish but, by the end of the three hours, you must have the product ready for presentation;

  • At the end of the three hours, up to 1,000 of your customers will enter in order to view your product. You and your team must present it to them and your presentation time is two hours. During this time your customers will sit and observe you. They have paid for this privilege….

Ok so that’s the scenario in a nutshell. Would now be a good time to take your pulse rate?!

How would you cope? How would you use your three precious hours in order to produce a product that is worthy of a two hour presentation to your paying customers? How would you build a relationship with 80 strangers in this limited time in order to work together productively to achieve your goals? Would you freeze with fear or thrive on the challenge?

A High-Speed Microcosm of Leadership

Welcome to the world of the conductor who, in reality, can be regularly faced with such a scenario – he ('she' is also available!) may be engaged to work in a venue that he has never entered before with musicians that he has never met (and often they may not have previously worked together) with a maximum of three hours to rehearse repertoire that he has not conducted previously for a two-hour concert performance.

Of course it goes without saying that the conductor will bring with him substantial expertise and highly honed musical skills. However, in these circumstances these alone will clearly not be enough so alongside these attributes what is really required from the conductor is an array of strong leadership skills. In this respect, the conductor of an orchestra is no different from any leader, in any organisation, in any sector. However, what can be found in analysing the role of the conductor is a complex concoction of leadership qualities that are delivered in an incredibly condensed timeframe - in fact, it is a high-speed microcosm of leadership.

Six Leadership Qualities of a Conductor

Here are six leadership qualities that are displayed as a norm by successful conductors.

A Clear Vision – a conductor always starts with the music (the score), and has a clear vision of how the composer would want it to sound. He may add his own interpretation but this will support and clarify rather than cloud the vision. The score is central to everything that he does and he never loses sight of it; it is the foundation upon which successful performances are built. The conductor and musicians are co-adventurers (Kelley) in a clear collective purpose - to deliver an exceptional performance.

Is the strategic intent of your organisation always at the heart of what you do? How clear is your vision and the communication of it to your team? Are you a co-adventurer with your team?

Simon in action

Commitment - a conductor leads from the heart with passion and conviction. There is nothing half-hearted when a conductor is working. He is not a bystander but is fully committed and gives of his whole - energising, and motivating the musicians to excel – his passion is inspirational and contagious, infecting the whole orchestra.

Are you a passionate leader? Do you have the ability to inspire others to always contribute their best?

Visible – a conductor is visible to every musician. He is responsible for aligning and co-ordinating the music and the musicians and has a strong connection with each one . Although he is visible to and aware of the audience, his back is to them – he is fully focussed on the team and they have his complete attention at all times. It's worth remembering that he is not always the face of the organisation - the musicians and the music take centre-stage.

How connected are you to your team? Are you consciously aligning everyone to the vision of your organisation? Are you ‘present’ and engaging?

Communication - a conductor understands the importance and impact of every gesture – there can be no doubt or indecision as every gesture matters and carries significance - even the arc of an eyebrow can convey meaning to the musicians. A conductor is a master of non-verbal communication and embodies the emotions that he wants to convey through his movements, breathing, gestures and body language – they are completely aligned with the messages that he wants to communicate.

How aware are you of the impact of your gestures and actions? Is your body language congruent with what you are saying? Do you communicate in a way that allows others to see and understand what is expected of them? Do you embody your vision and goals?

Delegation – a conductor recognises the skills of the musicians and empowers them to take the lead. He doesn’t get involved in activities and tasks that others should be undertaking – for example the tuning of the orchestra – he trusts his colleagues implicitly and empowers them. The conductor shapes rather than dictates and has a deep understanding of the roles played by individuals – even to the point of recognising that their skills may surpass his own abilities - allowing them to shine when necessary. The conductor knows what he needs and wants from each instrument but doesn't personally play - he leaves that to the individual musicians who are the experts in their own areas. However, he also fully understands and appreciates the synergy and importance of the ensemble, blending unique timbres to produce a unified performance.

Do you empower your team? How deep is your trust in them? Are you aware of the unique talents of individuals and how to use them? Are you able to blend your team to best effect?

Recognition - the conductor shares the limelight with the orchestra – although he may take some applause, he is magnanimous in recognising the efforts of the musicians – he knows that he is nothing without the orchestra and readily steps back to allow the audience to acknowledge the musicians. He ensures that the working day of every one of his musicians ends with a well-deserved round of applause.

How do you recognise the efforts of your team? Do you always readily give them the credit that is earned and deserved? Do you always step back so that others can take the limelight?

Have you ever imagined leading people as a conductor leads an orchestra? Are you transforming the noise of your organisation into a unified, harmonious sound? We believe that the role of conductor provides a simple yet powerful leadership analogy, an insightful model for all leaders, and have founded Corporate Conservatoire on these principles. What are we basing this belief on? With almost 60 collective years of experience in leadership, management and music, we have a pretty strong foundation upon which to build our approach.

This concept is ideal for any leadership development agenda - from staff development days to conferences or even integrated as a component of a leadership programme. We will design around your needs - even facilitating a workshop in which delegates can experience what it is like to be a conductor - by conducting an orchestra. If you’d like to know more then simply get in touch.

Let's leave the last word to Bill Rancic:

"to be successful, you have to think of yourself as an orchestra conductor. A conductor may not be an expert at each instrument, but he knows how to make all of them work together harmoniously and make beautiful sound”

Until next time

Andrea & Simon

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