Leadership and Harmony


Thanks to Cornelia's membership in the Kennedy Center, we recently attended a full rehearsal of the National Symphony Orchestra. The rehearsal we attended was for a concert in Washington, DC to be held that evening and for pieces they will be playing on their upcoming European Tour.

The people observing the event filled about a third of the Concert Hall. The first thing I noticed was the age of the audience-mostly older people who had time available to attend this event at 10 am on a Thursday morning. Cornelia and I laughed about how the crowd made us feel young and also how fortunate we are to own our own businesses so that we didn't have to ask anyone for the time off!

Because the front of the Concert Hall is blocked off attendees sit in the orchestra level in the middle and back of the hall. We found seats along the side of the orchestra level which gave us a good view of the orchestra and the conductor, and allowed us to watch the audience's reaction to the rehearsal as well.

The first piece they rehearsed was by a composer who is not one of my favorites, so I found myself paying more attention to the process than the music.

I watched the musicians who are all talented professionals on their own, but who, when playing in the orchestra, are part of an amazing team. Each member of the team has to know his/her part...when to play and when to be silent. We were closest to the violin section. I observed they sat two by two, sharing a music stand and score. Each duo appeared to have worked out who would turn the page on the music when the time was right, which meant to me that there was a high level of trust between the pairs.

They played nearly the entire piece before the conductor stopped them and began giving instructions based on what he had heard. While we couldn't hear everything he said, it was clear that the musicians were listening intently-he had their total focus. He pointed out specific bars where he wanted certain instruments to play louder, quieter, faster or slower-all from his memory of what he had just heard. He wasn't taking notes while they were playing-he was totally focused on what he was hearing. What an amazing gift to be able to listen to many sounds and hear each one individually as well as in total!

When he pointed out the changes he wanted to hear, his orchestra (team) listened closely. There were some questions but no discussion. He complimented musicians who had done something special. He asked for clarification from an assistant who was sitting near us in the audience and then they re-played some parts of the piece. When he raised his baton, they were ready and off they went!

What an example of leadership and followership in action. The conductor as a leader demonstrated he was listening to his team. He showed that he understood he couldn't make music without them-he could wave that baton around all day, but if they weren't sitting in front of him, focused on his direction, he would be totally ineffective. Leaders in today's organizations could take a lesson here to listen more carefully to their employees, praise them when appropriate, and acknowledge how important they are to the success of the organization.

They took a quick break while the chairs were reconfigured for the next piece. This piece used mostly strings and some horns, therefore many of the musicians didn't return from the break. This reminded me of how leaders and organizations need to be more flexible and not afraid to reconfigure to meet changing business requirements.

The third piece they rehearsed was by Mozart and, I will admit, he is a particular favorite of mine. As a result, I got caught up in the beauty of the music and especially focused on the harmony the musicians were creating with a wide variety of instruments. There was a brilliant violin soloist who played most of this piece with the backing of the orchestra. The soloist and the conductor appeared to be almost operating as one person as the soloist played his part and the conductor brought in the orchestra to provide the harmony.

What a powerful way to look at the role of a leader. A leader should know the strengths of his/her workforce and how to use those talents in ways that drive the organization's goals and maximizes profits or membership or whatever the metric is that determines success. A leader should be a good listener and be able to command the attention of his/her team. A leader should know when it is time to change and who should be part of that new configuration. A leader should be able to bring out the best in the team to create the harmony necessary to grow and succeed. Leadership and harmony lead to great things-not just in music but in life!

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