Five Leadership Lessons from the Symphony

Have you ever seen a one-man band? They are entertaining, and sometimes even quite talented, but their music is far from harmonious. Orchestras, on the other hand, are beautiful to watch. They produce the most quiet, soothing music or excite you with loud sounds and pulsating rhythm. The differences we find between the two provide us with great leadership lessons.

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In terms of leadership, one-man bands do it all. They don’t trust subordinates and micro-manage every detail. You and I have seen it in others, and we may even be guilty of practicing the same centralizing type of leadership ourselves.

The biblical image of leadership is not about star performers, but more like a conductor and an orchestra. Paul testifies to this statement in his letter to the Corinthians when he writes:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Maestros and Leadership

I love going to the symphony and watching the orchestra play. Beyond enjoying the music, an orchestral performance can teach us powerful leadership lessons. Here are five of them:

  • The Maestro Does Not Make a Sound. Many conductors are also musicians, but most of the time they stand behind a podium, with baton in hand, ready to give direction to the orchestra.

    Lesson #1: Leadership is not about doing everything, but working as a team to accomplish the beautiful symphony of a God-given vision.

  • The Conductor Communicates with the Orchestra. To you and me, the conductor’s hand gestures mean little, but to the musicians, they are a rich language or rhythm, tempo, emphasis, dynamic, etc. In order to communicate during the performance, the conductor and the musicians create a common language during rehearsal.

    Lesson #2: Leaders need to create a culture and common language with their teams to allow quick and effective communication.

  • The Best Conductors Inspire Top Performance. A good orchestra has many instruments playing together at one time, but an outstanding orchestra plays so well together that it appears as one instrument.

    Lesson #3: Building a team that “plays as one instrument”; is the main task of the leader.

  • The Main Job of the Conductor is to Make Each Musician Shine. This seems opposite of my last point, but if you have been to a concert, you know a good piece of music highlights various sections of the orchestra at different times.

    Lesson #4: Great leaders build on each team member’s strengths and understand that when one person shines, the entire team and its leader shine as well.

  • The Conductor is Always a Little Ahead. You may not know this, but every orchestra lags behind the conductor a fraction of a measure. This is easy to understand when you realize the musicians have to pay attention to the score, their instrument, and look at the conductor. A good conductor knows this and allows it to happen.

    Lesson #5: Visionary leaders are always ”ahead of the pack.” Excellent leaders motivate others to come alongside them with the understanding that not everyone will be able to keep the same pace.

I am sure there are other powerful lessons to be learned by observing an orchestra, but I hope you and I can apply these ones to our leadership.

Which one of these five lessons can you apply to your leadership this week?