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Music itself encompasses so many aspects of science, technical know-how, and art. Itay Talgam explores the connection between conductors and business leaders

3 min read

Music touches the manual, the intellectual and the emotional aspects of humans. It is interesting to look at ways orchestras achieve coordinated and even creative collaboration as a metaphor for how people live and work together. Music making embodies knowledge and innovation, individual effort and collective achievement, and offers an environment that is full of opportunities for excellence and self-actualisation, the same as any successful organisation, from a family to the whole of society.

The perception of the conductor’s role is in transition from the cult of demi-Gods, to first-among-equals. How is leadership to be maintained in this day and age of ‘the wisdom of the crowds,’ whilst it is expected to supply not only excellent products but also spiritual elevation? “An orchestra is made out of a hundred and ten minds. A hundred and ten different interpretations. Somebody has to decide,” says Zubin Mehta, a prominent Maestro. But how? Pushing away all other interpretations? This, in my work, develops into the idea of analysing leadership patterns and control through the concept of music.

Conducting is visible, transparent, and in real time – an immediate experience of leadership

Why should one person decide for everyone else? Isn’t that like a monarchy, while we tend to think democracy, with all its problems, is preferable? Can an orchestra play without a conductor? Here we are already deep in the issue of leadership, not music!

This is one aspect of why conducting is still a strong traditional symbol of leadership, but one that is changing in ways relevant for contemporary leaders in business. I have conducted and watched various orchestras, and found all kinds of cultures you that have been, naturally, influenced by styles of conducting, from full dictatorship to a pure democracy – and everything in between!

Conducting is just one manifestation of management and leadership, but a great tool to look through both at yourself and your organization’s culture of management and leadership. Conducting is visible, transparent, and in real time – and all these qualities enable an immediate experience of leadership like no other, both on the podium and as an interested observer.

Here are 5 leadership tips from the podium:

1. Be knowledgeable, so you’ll have a high observation-point. Then choose to be a complete ignorant, so you can help generate new and unpredictable ideas

2. Listen, listen, listen! Become a keynote listener, and create a culture of listening

3. Take gaps seriously, don’t close them: use them. Create them when necessary

4. Create meaning the only way possible – through dialogue

5. Be humble, committed to what you do, not to yourself