Are You A Great Conductor?

Here is another viewpoint on leadership. Are you a great conductor? More at:

A few years ago I read the following article on leadership that was published in USA TODAY.  Reading this article will be worth your time and give you another way to think about your own leadership style.
If you want to be a leader, then reading about and studying different points of view on leadership will help you develop your own leadership style and focus.   . . . Lee

Today’s Topic:  How to Motivate Staff Without Utilizing Fear

The days of the dictatorial boss are numbered.  At least, that’s what the experts are saying.  Military-style leaders who give orders, no questions asked, are being supplanted by orchestra conductors, who rule like maestros rather than generals.  Today’s workers won’t be barked at.  Instilling fear is counterproductive.  The best leaders can focus the talents and energies of a sophisticated workforce into a symphony of success.  To that end, USA TODAY corporate management reporter Del Jones talked with Lorin Maazel, 73, music director of the New York Philharmonic.  Great leaders, he says, elicit passion, not perfection.

Maazel’s Tips

Earn respect.  Remember how difficult it was to follow someone you couldn’t respect.
Strike a balance between confidence and humility.
Don’t be nice to curry favor.  Be nice just to be nice.
Speak when you have something valuable to say. Otherwise, shut up.
To lead, energize.
Don’t demand perfection.  Demand passion.

About Lorin Maazel

  • Born in 1930 in Paris, an American raised and educated in the USA.  Has a photographic memory.
  • Firsts:  Violin lesson at age 5; conducting lesson at 7; conducted the Interlochen Orchestra at the 1939 World’s Fair at 9.  Conducted most major U.S. orchestras between ages 9 and 15.
  • Became music director of the New York Philharmonic in September 2002.  Music Director, Symphony Orchestra of the Bavarian Radio 1993-2002; music director Pittsburgh Symphony 1988-96; chief conductor Vienna State Opera 1982-84; music director Cleveland Orchestra 1972-82.
  • Speaks fluent English, French, German, and Italian, and has a working knowledge of Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.  Wants to write a novel.
  • Best-selling album:  “Sentimento” (3 million-plus copies).  Recorded 276 CDs and LPs over 45 years.
  • Investment advice:  CDs, bonds, money market. The experts can’t get the stock market right, he says, so he recently got completely out.

Q: What do conductors do besides wave a baton?
A:  A conductor is the musical equivalent of a stage director.  Actors know their parts, but the director is responsible for the overall picture.  I have 100 players spread out over a stage, and each knows how to play his instrument better than I.  But Player A does not know what B is playing.  I bring it all together.  The notes on a page are lifeless.  I know to what extent each instrument can be pushed to achieve an interpretive goal.

Q:  Sounds like being a boss.  How do you get players to strive for your goal?
A:  Command is about respect.  Even in the days when a CEO could fire someone on the spot because he didn’t like the way he tied his tie, it was still respect that made it happen.  The name of the game hasn’t changed.  No conductor can accomplish anything worthy of the performance without commanding the respect of players.  The only way to do that is to know the musical score and understand the problems they will encounter playing it.

Q:  Success rides on the respect of subordinates?
A:  Of course, but the boss can’t ask for it.  It will be accorded him if his authority is recognized.  Not because he’s been vested with it, but because he knows his job, he knows his business, he knows the people, and he shows respect for the people who work for him.  Players know that I know what it means to do battle with an instrument.  I know that no one wants to do anything but his best.  If he doesn’t, I don’t frown and complain.

Q:  Leadership is about getting things done through others.  How does a conductor accomplish that?
A:  When players have respect for their conductor, they want to be guided.  There is an automatic response.  Just by the way you raise your shoulders, they know what it is that you want.  (In rehearsal) a lot of conductors mess up by stopping to say something, but when they start again it sounds exactly as it did before.  If you want to make a difference, never say anything that’s not going to make a difference.  I want to improve things.  I don’t just stop the orchestra to hear myself talk.  If I say something that will not make it sound different, I’m wasting my time, and I’m wasting their time.

Q:  Why should orchestra conductors be role models for leadership?  Aren’t they ego-driven? Don’t they run hierarchical shops?
A:  Our profession has been denigrated with a consistency that is absolutely astonishing.  General managers, recording engineers, journalists, all want their own voices to be heard, which means the person in charge has to be brought down a peg or two.  The vast majority have carried their authority with honor and were charming and wonderful people.  There have been abusive conductors, and they didn’t do a service to the reputation of the profession.

Q:  There is a debate among leadership experts about whether corporate leaders are born or made.  Do you think maestros are born or made?
A:  You’re born potentially a great conductor, but then comes the discipline.  Years and years of studying, focus, and stick-toitiveness to the point where you can’t study another note, you’re so tired you can’t see straight.  All the studying in the world will not make you a conductor.  I’ve seen people be eminently prepared, and they don’t have the natural gift.  That’s true of everything—playing chess, tennis.  In theater, there are actors who walk on stage and don’t do anything and have a commanding presence.  Others walk around screaming and tearing their hair, and you want to yawn because it’s so boring.  Some folks just have this natural authority.  I can’t define it.  They’ve just got it. 

Q:  Do you treat everyone differently?  Do you treat bassoonists differently than trombonists?
A:  There is more similarity between oboe players from various nations than there are between oboe players and baseball players of the same country.  A Japanese oboe player is a lot more similar to an American or French oboe player than he would be to a sumo wrestler.

Q:  How do you handle musicians who aren’t putting out the effort you know they are capable of?
A:  In every group, there are folks who are just tired or have had a fight with their spouse.  Sometimes a gentle word if you see it’s not going away.  I call the player in and ask if there is anything I can do because, “I know you’re a fine player, and I know this is not the impression that you would want to give.  How can we work this out together?”

Q:  What about those days when it seems like everyone in the pit is sluggish and unmotivated?
A:  That’s projection.  I have noticed in my long career that if I am really tired or I have a flu coming on that it’s felt.  Everybody gets into that mode, and pretty soon, each is playing as sluggishly as I’m conducting.  I have learned to come to rehearsal fresh, energetic, projecting enthusiasm and go-go-go.  It’s got to be irresistible.  If I don’t think I’m up for it, I take a cold shower.  That’s my job—to energize people.  If they grind it out and couldn’t care less, then they wind up hating you and themselves because it’s not why they practiced all of their lives.  Emotion is what it’s all about.  Music making without emotion and passion is nothing.

Q:  Then a boss should never blame the staff?
A:  I take full responsibility, even when it has nothing to do with me.  Everyone feels that, and it is relaxing. 

Q:  Is there ever a time and place for good old-fashioned command-and-control leadership?
A:  Losing your temper is a non-starter.  Fine orchestras respect themselves and have a great sense of mission and esprit de corps.  They’re trying to do their best.  Nobody’s perfect.  I’m never looking for a perfect performance; I’m looking for an impassioned performance.

Q:  You’ve been conducting since you were a child.  What was the most important thing you had to learn?
A:  When you’re young, you can become pretty arrogant.  I learned gradually to be even more humble.  At the same time, not having self-confidence and undermining faith in yourself is very bad.  Some performers are very self-destructive.  They don’t do their best because they’re always tearing their performances apart, always feeling inadequate.  Others are totally in love with themselves, incredibly arrogant.  You need to find a good balance between self-confidence and humility.  I’ve tried to find that, and I hope others do.

Helping Others Stretch

Q:   How do you challenge players to stretch, to play a difficult passage they think they are incapable of playing?
A: You encourage, you push and pull.  You look out at your colleagues and you say, “Yes, you can.”  It’s like the childhood ditty about the little engine that could.  To bring people past the limitations of their own potential is leadership.  All fine leaders conducting from the podium have that.


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