Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Lesson #302: Business Lessons from the Great Conductors

Posted By: George Deeb - 10/09/2018


& Comment

I don't usually talk about my personal life in this blog, but the opportunity presented itself.  Music has always been a passion of mine and played an important part of my life.  I composed a symphony at the age of 16, was the principal clarinetist, rank leader and fanfare band director with the University of Michigan Marching Band while in college, and am a self-taught pianist.  So, I know a little bit about music, as I do business.

I was not surprised when my life-long friend thought I would be interested in watching the below 2009 TED Talk from Itay Talgam, the Israeli musical conductor, which he recently sent to me.  What did surprise me was the content of this video, and how Itay was able to brilliantly tie together leadership lessons from the great conductors in music to similar leadership lessons in the business world.  Take a watch of this video, and then we will continue our discussion below.

As you can see, Itay does a great job of critiquing many different great conductors and their styles, including Carlos Kleiber, Riccardo Muti, Richard Strauss, Herbert Von Karajan and Leonard Bernstein.  A couple things really stood out to me in this video, that you can apply to your businesses.


In music, the job of the conductor is many fold.  The conductor will interpret the music as written by the composer.  The conductor will set the tempo changes.  The conductor will make sure the many individual players perform in unison.  Doesn't that sound familiar to a business CEO, that interprets the business climate, sets strategies, determines the pace of growth and gets all the employees working in harmony towards to goal.  They are exactly the same!!  In both cases, it is a balance between the leader and their staff towards hitting their goals, as a team, while leveraging the individual strengths of its members.


As you saw in this video, no two conductors are the same.  Some gesture with arms big and bold, and others are hardly moving.  Some use a baton, and others their hands.  Some overly emphasize each of their desires, and others only emphasize what they think is most important.  Some are most dynamic during dynamic points in the music, and then change styles entirely during softer points in the score.  Some take a very visible leadership role, and others let the musicians take the lead.  And, like in business, no two CEOs are the same, from A-type personality dictators all the way down to B-type personality enablers.  The key is finding the right style works best for you and is most needed for your business situation and team members; one that will resonate with the team and get them to follow your lead towards hitting your collective goals.


When you saw the video of Riccardo Muti, it looked like he was physically going to suffocate the life out of Don Giovanni, the primary character of the opera he was conducting.  His style was so micro-managerial in nature, that he had to overly communicate his desires to the musicians, at all times, as if the musicians couldn't logically figure out what to do on their own.  As Itay said, he was using the musicians as "instruments, and not as partners" in creating great music.  And, what happened to Riccardo Muti with with that leadership style?  The 700 musicians of La Scala all signed a letter asking him to resign, which he did.  That would be no different in the business world, when you have disgruntled staff wanting to leave a company being micro-managed by an authoritarian CEO.


On the flipside, the videos of Carlos Kleiber and Herbert Von Karajan showed exactly how a conductor should lead.  They weren't overly animated the entire time.  They only got more animated at certain times when they wanted to make sure the music reflected their most-important desires.  At the other times, they calmly set the tempo and let the musicians do their thing.  And, when things were going well, they just soaked it up, visibly showing their pleasure, which served as a pat on the back to the musicians for a job well done.  But, to be clear, when things were repeatedly going awry, a quick glance to the erring musician told them it was time to fix their performance.  This is exactly how a CEO should lead--only get involved when they have to, reward their staff for a job well done and put out business fires as they arise.


My favorite conductor video was the last one, by Leonard Bernstein, one of my favorite composers and conductors of all time, pictured above.  In his video, I was amazed to see his arms did not move once.  Is that even possible for a conductor?  He conducted the entire piece with his eye gestures only.  First, he did not want to get in the way of the musicians shining on this piece.  Second, without overt leadership actions by the conductor, the musicians are forced better to listen to each other in creating one perfect ensemble.  And, third, he is emphasizing the point: at times, less is more.  Each of these are equally important points in the business world.  CEOs need to let their staff shine and get them to work better as a team, even without excessive management, all while getting increased efficiency and focus.


Anyway, I hope you like this comparison between the music world and the business world, two passions of mine that were expertly intertwined in this video by Itay Talgam.  As you have seen in this video (and in your businesses), great conductors (CEO's) "do not interfere" with the creation of great music (businesses) and mentoring great musicians (employees).  Instead, they study their score (business climate) and figure out the best interpretation (business strategy), which they clearly communicate to their musicians (staff), and get out of their way.  I really loved this video!!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at:  @georgedeeb.

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