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Saturday, November 26, 2020

Orchestral Maneuvers

“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers. If you don’t understand that you work for your mislabeled ‘subordinates,’ then you know nothing of leadership. You know only tyranny.” Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus. VISA International

One of the images I like best for Slow Leaders is the conductor of an orchestra. Not the leader. The leader of the orchestra isn't the conductor, it's the principal violin player. The conductor's there to set the right tempo and manage the interpretation of the piece the orchestra's playing. The conductor must also keep a close watch on the balance of sound between the various instruments, otherwise the louder brass might drown out the woodwind or the strings.

A good conductor works with and for the orchestra, allowing each instrumentalist to play at his or her best. Though some maestros have been terrible tyrants with massive egos, being a conductor is really an enabling role, not a directing one. A conductor's role is to bring the orchestra into unity, so harmony -- not discord -- is the result. An orchestra could certainly play without a conductor (some small orchestras do), but if they do they risk losing cohesion. As each player concentrates on his or her own part, someone has to be paying attention to the sound and performance as a whole. That's the conductor's job.

This image works well with today's organizations, especially when they're composed largely of knowledge workers. Orchestral musicians are experts in their own right. The conductor doesn't teach them to play their instruments, or pass judgment on their ability. He or she is there to help them contribute their expertise to the performance as a whole. Knowledge workers too know far more about their specialisms than their so-called superiors. They need coordination, not instruction and control.

I've watched many conductors at work. Some thrash around, intent on showing the audience how "artistic" they are and how deeply they feel the music. Generally, orchestras despise them. Watch the player's eyes. They rarely even glance at the antics on the podium. They simply get on with playing the music and let the idiot in front of them provide his (it's nearly always "his" with this type of conductor) own performance for the audience.

One of the best conductors I ever saw was Sir Adrian Boult. He was physically small, very quiet and courteous, and looked more like a butler than a world famous conductor. He was known for rarely, if ever, raising his arms higher than than his chest or even moving them much when he conducted. Instead, he held his baton between his right thumb and the next two fingers and moved it without moving anything else. But he could coax a virtuoso performance from even a rough and ready band. Players loved him, because he concentrated on them, not himself.

Slow Leaders do the same. They work for their subordinates, not the other way around. They set the tempo and watch the balance, so the players can create harmony. They don't show off. They have no time for that nonsense. They're too busy making time for things that really matter, and directing their attention where it's needed — on the performance and the players, not on themselves.

Time is finite. You cannot create more, only waste what you have. If Slow Leaders seem to be able to make time where others fail, it's because they use the time they have more wisely. If you cannot use time as it's needed most, if you let others determine how you use your time and that of your staff, you're neither a leader nor much use to anyone in a leader's position.

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