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What Leaders can Learn from the Conductor

A few weeks ago I saw the Berliner Philharmoniker. The show was so full that the only available seats were in a balcony behind the orchestra and facing the conductor.

Watching from this perspective it was clear how important the conductor is to the group. It’s rare to have such an intimate view of the art of coordinating people. It made me realize that there are a lot of parallels between conductors and managers:

  • The conductor’s purpose is not to make bad players sound good, it is to help great players achieve a level of balance and compatibility that would have been otherwise impossible.
  • The musicians aren’t looking at the conductor for what to do next. They know what part they have to play. Instead they look to the conductor for cues that help them adjust to the rest of the group.
  • The conductor is focused on the musicians, not the crowd. They accept and embrace the audience’s applause but they share it openly with the musicians and highlight those who played a key role when it’s relevant.
  • The conductor knows who to focus on and when. They can’t focus on everyone at once so they must trust each member to know what they’re doing.