The Sensational Sound of Leadership

Precision! Perfection! “I hear ♫♪ music in the air entrancing the senses and I am compelled to go there.”

The orchestra grew by accretion throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, however the 20th-century orchestra had become far more flexible than its predecessors. The 1970’s saw the introduction of charismatic / transformational leadership.


The main figure in the orchestra is the conductor. Conductors act as guides to the orchestras. A conductor's job may look easy, but it's one of the most demanding. It’s leadership in motion. They are there to bring a musical score to life, communicating their own highly refined sense of the work through an individual language of gestures. While there are some common gestures, most great conductors have their own unique style.

Great conductors get the best out of their people. They ensure their musicians feel significant, accepted and secure. A conductor needs his musicians. Likewise, a leader needs his followers and needs to take time to develop his followership. The task of the leader is to get everyone in tune to make melody. Therefore he / she would need to understand follower classification, their aptitude and motivation, and use this as a guiding tool for the development of proper leadership styles. Thereby, producing an environment in which the artistry of others may emerge.

"That's really the role of being a great leader--being able to help other people make the music that builds the business that you are creating." ~ Joe Caplan

In my previous article “ Leaders: Beware of Followers ” I proposed 7 Types of Followers (Sycophants, Critics, Realists, Loyalists, Traitors, Spectators and Opportunists). In this post we will explore a little deeper to see how the leader can ensure his ensemble of followers are in unison to produce riveting music (achievement of common goals).

A Symphony Orchestra may consist of 7 sections synonymous with the 7 types of Followers:

1) Sycophants – The “yes people”. The Keyboard section (Celesta, Piano etc). The strings are sounded when the keys are pressed, and silenced when the keys are released.

  • Do you tend to seek the counsel of those employees that always agree with you?
  • Do you speak negatively about those that challenge you?
  • Do you always have to be right?

2) Critics – Those that challenge and question the leader’s every behaviour and policy. The Electric and Electronic section employs electronic music technology in its production.

  • Do you let some employees get away with some things but not others?
  • Do you yourself feel that you don’t have to follow the same rules as your employees?
  • Does your actions correlate with the words you speak?

3) Realists provide constructive critical thinking and interact with the group and the leader. The Woodwinds section - (Clarinets, Flutes etc). Wind instruments produce sound through vibrations created by the user's breath as it travels through the instrument's tubes.

  • Do you take honest feedback personally if it’s negative?
  • Are you open minded? Do you approach problems from a 360 degree angle?
  • Do you challenge your employees to think outside the box?

4) Loyalists – Thegenuine supporters. The Stand alone instruments section - Concert Harp. The harp is played with the fingertips of the first four fingers with force from the hand and arm, and ultimately the upper body.

  • Are you your employees' manager or their friend?
  • Is being accepted by your employees mean more to you than having to discipline them when needed?
  • Do you openly show favouritism to employees who support you?

5) Traitors – Those that have strong negative emotional feelings about the leader and secretly work to undermine him/ her. The Brass section - (Trumpets, Horns etc). Brass instruments are hollow inside.

  • Do you take credit for others achievements?
  • Do you spend time getting to know your team?
  • Are you aware of what motivates them?

6) Spectators – Those only engaged to do their job and nothing more. The Percussion section- Timpani. These instruments produce a sound through being struck.

  • Do you have coaching sessions and regular meetings?
  • Do you employ team building activities?
  • Do you assign and entrust more responsibilities to others?

7) Opportunists –Those that do everything openly to get noticed and love to be rewarded. The Strings section- (Cellos, Violins etc) Stringed instruments make sounds when their strings are plucked with the fingers or stroked with a bow. The string section is usually located in the front.

  • Do you reward your employees?
  • Do you publicly acknowledge their good work?
  • Do you recommend staff for training and development?
"A real leader faces the music even when he doesn't like the tune." ~ Arnold H. Glasgow

A dysfunctional team can be unproductive.The duty of a leader is to indicate the right tempo and to get everyone focused to understand the importance of their various roles. If one person is off beat this can ruin the whole performance. Therefore achieving synchronization is needed to produce the sweetest melody.

10 Skills required to be a Great Conductor / Leader

1. Selection The conductor recruits the best players. His team also consists of a concertmaster who leads the pre-concert tuning and handles technical aspects of orchestra management, usually sitting to the conductor's left.

2. Vision – The first task of the conductor is to convey the interpretation of the goals to the performers. They start with a musical score and a clear idea of how it should sound. Only then do they attempt to recreate in real time their musical “vision.”

3. Influence Great conductors lead. With a quick move of their baton, they decide when the sound starts and stops. They inspire and create excitement without imposing their authority.

4. Visibility – The conductor is visible. He stands on a platform so every single member of the orchestra can see him.

5. Persistence – Conducting is more difficult than playing a single instrument. You have to put in the hard work with the ensemble of followers.

6. Passion – Great conductors are swept up in the music. They are passionate. The leader's passion is infectious and generally seeps through the organization.

7. Purpose – The conductor keeps his back to the audience. Leaders are aware of the audience(shareholders, board of directors) but their focus is on the players.

8. Communication – The best conductors are the best listeners. They can tell when there is discord in the camp.

9. Emotional Intelligence Great conductors are aware of their gestures and impact. They have to be precise or their musicians will not be able to follow. Everything done is intentional.

10. Team focus – The conductor shares the spotlight. When the concert is over, and the audience is clapping, he turns to the audience and takes a bow and immediately turns to the orchestra and invites them to stand and bow as well.

I've always found that the speed of the boss is the speed of the team." ~ Lee Iacocca

At the end of the performance if you get a standing ovation from the audience (shareholders) and judges (board of directors) and shouts of “encore”, you can rest assured the performance would be immortalized.

There is a reason why certain performances live on in the memory, decade after decade, and it is invariably down to that figure on the podium – the leader doing so much more than just waving his/her hands in the air.