Sunday, October 25, 2009

If you love something, give it away...

Conductors of orchestras are some of the best possible examples of leadership we can find. In the TEDx episode, Leading Like the Great Conductors (, Itay Talgam demonstrates the dramatic differences among conductors' styles by showing clips of them in performance. Some are jovial and animated. Others are stoic and mysterious. Others are energetic and explosive. Talgam explains that none of these styles is better than the other; they're just the unique styles through which these conductors give life to the music they conduct. In the example of the stoic, Herbert von Karajan reports of himself that he never wants the orchestra members to be able to anticipate what he wants; he expects them to know and to create among the ensemble the true and authentic interpretation of the music. In von Karajan's own words, "The worst damage I can do to my orchestra is to give them clear instructions." When one player complained to von Karajan that he couldn't figure out when to play, he replied, "You start when you can't stand it anymore."

The lessons we can learn from music that help us with leadership... First of all, individual styles of leadership can be legitimate and effective. Second, leadership is sometimes most effective when reserved for the moment when collaborators can't stand waiting any more. And third, leadership is most effective when it draws the ensemble together, forcing them to rely on each other to fulfill their creative potential.

My favorite conducting example and leadership lesson is demonstrated by Leonard Bernstein as he conducts a composition entirely by use of facial expressions. It's priceles to see how effective he is without moving one finger or limb. By not really doing anything, he gives the music to the orchestra and demonstrates the most important artistic and leadership lesson of all, “If you love something, give it away.” And all great artists and transformational leaders have found a way to do this, no matter how difficult, how joyous, or how much it hurts.


Denny Roberts said...

I'm still reading Power by Robert Greene and discovered a wonderful word - sprezzatura. It means to complete your work or fulfill your vision with an effortless artistry. Greene indicates that sprezzatura comes from the world of art and was observed by many artists, including Michelangelo who forbade his work ever being seen before it was finished. The idea was to not allow the viewers to see the painstaking effort that went into the creation of such great art. While Greene advocates conveying sprezzatura in order to enhance power, I see it as coming from acts of authentic creation. If a person is deeply convicted about what they are doing, and willing to engage with others and trust others to help make it happen, sprezzatura will, indeed, be what unfolds. Great word - probably not useful in the average conversation but fun nevertheless.

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