As a Leader, Are You Fostering Harmony or Discord?

The Symphony is all about harmony, pace, volume and teamwork. My wife and I attended a Colorado Symphony performance last week, and I couldn’t help notice the wildly gesticulating conductor was just like a head coach of a football team – and even like the leader of a corporate team.

The conductor doesn’t imbue the musicians with talent. They were born with some of it, and they developed the rest of it over years of commitment. The conductor doesn’t give them work ethic. They made it to this lofty perch through decades of diligent practice.

What the conductor does is give all of the musicians a single focal point and a single interpretation of the music so they can perform in harmony.

The Colorado Symphony is an 80-piece orchestra, and when all 80 are in tune, in harmony, on pace at the right volume, they produce an amazing and lovely sound. But it takes just one of those 80 people to fall out of harmony, and the entire experience is ruined.

The similarities in what makes the Symphony successful and what makes professional athletes and those working in the corporate world successful is impossible to miss. Like great musicians, many pro athletes have discovered they had more talent than their coach knew how to coach. It might have happened in high school or in college, but when they arrived in the NFL, they—like the musicians in big city symphonies—suddenly met coaches who were equal to their talent.

When that happens, these players really blossomed and started to achieve their true potential. That’s the reality that we all need to embrace. It is hard to get where you want to go without some great coaches along the way.

Interesting, the conductor of the symphony can’t play an instrument nearly as well as the musicians, but in wielding his baton, he provides the direction, encouragement, interpretation, volume and pace of the music that allows the players to achieve their true potential.

During my career as a professional athlete, I would say that from about age 16 through the end of my NFL career at age 29, I didn’t have a single coach who was a better athlete than me. Yet, I had many coaches who knew how to get great performances out of me that I couldn’t produce on my own.

As corporate leaders, we have the opportunity to lead the orchestra. The goal is to get the best performance out of every instrument, but best generally doesn’t mean that you want to hear one instrument blaring over all the others. Best generally means that you achieve your goal in perfect harmony, where everyone is doing their jobs in the right way, at the right pace and with the proper tone and inflection.

How do you achieve that?

My wife and I had a chance to chat backstage with Colorado Symphony Associate Conductor Christopher Dragon before he took the stage on Sunday, and he made it clear that the key was the respect that he showed for both the music and the musicians.

The musicians he leads are incredibly talented people. From a global perspective, every member of any big-city orchestra is in the top 1% of all musicians in the world, so they’re REALLY good at what they do. And they’ve played for many conductors over the years.

However, just like professional athletes, these musicians don’t just take their talents out into the world and perform on street corners; rather they are trained to be led by a great conductor. Their talent is best used when they’re sitting in front of a talented conductor who can pull the entire orchestra together to play with great harmony and great precision.

To do that, the conductor has to have great respect for each musician’s talent as well as great respect for the music. He has to wave his baton and make other gestures to them in a way that is meaningful and informative. He’s got to deliver his instructions silently—otherwise he would disrupt the music—but with enough physical “volume” to ensure that his message is clearly understood.

What type of “conductor” are you? Are you bringing the best out of the people you’re leading? Are you respecting their talents? Are you “conducting” the business in a way that produces harmony and accuracy in your team?

I asked some of the musicians, “What happens if the conductor isn’t good?”

The answer is usually something like, “We ignore him and just play based on our own interpretations. It doesn’t sound as good. It’s not as harmonious. But it sounds better than following a bad conductor.”

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