Orchestra conductors don’t make any music. A valuable lesson for all leaders.

In the 2015 movie, Steve Jobs, there is a scene where Steve Wozniak asks Jobs, “What did you do? You can’t write code; you’re not an engineer, you’re not a designer. You can’t put a hammer to a nail… What do you do?”

Jobs’ reply? “I play the orchestra.”

This simple dialogue struck a chord in me (no pun intended) because it says so much about leadership.

In a life before children and a mortgage, I was, you might say, an itinerant musician who played in several orchestras. I even conducted a bit.

Most people think all an orchestra conductor does is keep time, but they do much more. They keep time, yes, but they also keep everyone together, help ensure people play at the right time, and run the rehearsals leading up to the concert. One thing they do not do though is make any music. Their job is to help everyone in the orchestra do that. By inspiring and teaching, a good conductor helps the musicians take those little black spots on a page and shape them into something listeners can feel.

What this shows is the symbiotic relationship between leader and those led. The orchestra needs the conductor to shape and form what each player does individually into a coherent meaningful whole. The conductor on the other hand needs the orchestra to make the sounds and rhythms that form the building blocks of that whole. Neither the conductor nor the orchestra can achieve anything alone, they need each other.

Herein lies a lesson for all leaders. Like an orchestra needs their conductor, your team needs you, however, you, like a conductor, need your orchestra.

When I get asked what a leader is, my response is simple, a leader is someone people follow.

So, what about leadership, what is it? Leadership is moving people, followers, to move a mission. This definition, unfortunately, leaves the door open for a leader to potentially coerce or manipulate. There are, regrettably, poor leaders who go this route and believe it is the right thing to do. However, in my experience, leaders who work in this way are much less effective. When team members are treated poorly, they bring only the minimum effort to the job, which means the work requires more people and more time.

Therefore, to be more effective, leaders must do more than just move people. They must inspire and help their team members be successful so they can, through teamwork, make the mission successful. Effective leaders know that if each individual member is encouraged and helped to bring their best to the job, a mission stands a much better chance of success, and because team members feel cared for and valued, they not only do their best work, they will, more often than not, do more. Leaders who inspire and help often get jobs done with fewer people in less time, and consequently, are truly more effective.

This is precisely what a good conductor does. They help each musician bring their best so that when it all comes together the musical mission is successful.

Next time you are flipping channels and see an orchestra concert, stop and observe. Think about what that conductor is doing and compare it to your leadership. Are you bringing out the best in those you lead? Are you helping them be successful? Are you an effective leader shaping great music?

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