Monday, 30 September 2013

You can lead an HR Professional to culture ...

To be honest, I'm not really convinced that there are management lessons to be learned from rock music, or indeed from any form of music. (Other, of course, than from cool contemporary jazz which is simply awash with ideas about creativity, improvisation, cooperation, empathy etc. etc. !)
But having recently had the opportunity to observe at close quarters some of the world's top conductors masterfully directing the juggernaut of a 100 strong orchestra, there are at least a couple of leadership insights to be shared.
Let's take Esa-Pekka Salonen's guidance of the Royal Festival Hall based Philharmonia Orchestra to give us some tips. 
His conducting of Edgar Varese's Ameriques led one reviewer to say, "the numerous climaxes at the end of the work kept growing louder and louder, Salonen forcing his orchestra to the edge of what is possible in a concert hall". Admittedly it's a pretty obscure piece that is rarely performed, but all you need to know about the piece is that it builds to a crescendo of ear-splitting magnitude. A bit like Stairway to Heaven on steroids. As the final chord rang out, Salonen was literally on his tiptoes, arms aloft,  waving his fist into the air, pleading with the orchestra to blow, bow, or hit their instruments for a few moments longer. Like Communist Party officials not wanting to be the first one to cease applauding the Soviet leader after his two-hour speech, the musicians were latched onto the conductor's gestures, not daring to let the conductor out of their field of vision or to be the first one to expire.  When Salonen at last brought down his arms the audience went ape, as much out of relief as in appreciation.  
Interestingly, it turns out that in the afternoon's rehearsal, the conductor had refused to allow the orchestra to practice the final crescendo. Clearly he wanted the orchestra not to take for granted how the piece would end, but have to rely on him to guide them through the final few bars, and to totally commit themselves to his vision for how the piece would conclude. 
Leadership Lesson No. 1: Sometimes you need to surprise your team by taking them (metaphorically!) somewhere they are not expecting to go.
Next: Same conductor, same orchestra, different piece. 
This time EPS is waggling his stick to direct the orchestra in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. 
Sometimes he does the to-be-expected thing of waving his arms about like a man plugged into the national grid. Sometimes he bends over and almost pleads with the front row of the violins to play with more expression. Sometimes he points to the french horns inviting them to tone it down a bit. The orchestra responds to his bidding. 
But there are occasions when the orchestra is chugging along very nicely thank you very much, when he just stands there, arms at his side. No facial gestures. No arm waggling. Just stands there.
It's as if he's saying, "That's it. You're doing fine, playing what you're supposed to be, so you don't need me to intervene in any way. Just keep going."
Leadership Lesson No. 2: If your team are doing what they are paid to do, why not just leave them to get on with it? Save your grand gestures and arm waving for when its really needed. 
(Cue wild applause from appreciative audience, bow, exit stage left)


  1. I wonder how many managers encourage their team to stand and take a bow after an amazing performance or simply ignore the team and take all the applause for themselves?! Another lesson to learn me thinks

  2. Now that is one very good comment! Most conductors draw attention to everyone that has made a contribution, don't they?