7 Leadership Lessons from the Conductor

by | Oct 17, 2014 | Blog, High Road Cooperation and Unity, High Road Leadership











Seattle SymphonyThe music was amazing! Listening to a polished Seattle Symphony playing theme music from several memorable films was just what I needed to relax. I was mesmerized while observing the Symphony in action, when a thought hit me: the Symphony’s conductor is demonstrating high quality leadership.

I recently attended a Seattle Symphony concert led by Jeff Tyzik, its Pops Performance Conductor. The soothing quality of the music allowed me to be both present and somewhere else at the same time. The other place I found myself was witnessing Tyzik demonstrating seven qualities that a leader must master to get the best out of their people, team, and organization.

This is what I observed and the leadership lessons in Tyzik’s actions.

1. The conductor knows the whole score.

While each musician is masterful and knows his or her piece by heart, the conductor has to know and understand the whole score and how the individual player’s part fits in to make up the whole.

As a leader of a team or company, you must focus on the big picture since your people mostly know how to do their job. Someone has to be the orchestrator ensuring that each individual member and team carries out the mission.

2. The conductor visibly keeps the pace of the action.

Even though it might seem that Tyzik uses his arms and baton to tell the entire symphony how to keep up with him, he was actually doing something entirely different. The conductor creates momentum and rhythm, along with a sense of urgency.

As an adept leader, you are the one to set the pace and provide the sense of urgency so your employees get the job done on time and on budget. You do this by making the pace visible and by measuring the output while keeping your eyes and ears on the quality.

3 The conductor turns his back on the patrons and faces the players.

Some think leadership is about putting the spotlight on themselves and their abilities. However, the capable leader puts their entire attention on the people doing the work.

If the musicians and your people lose sight of what they are supposed to be doing, the audience and your outside stakeholders will be disappointed. You would quickly lose their patronage, something you cannot afford.

4. The conductor continuously praises the symphony and musicians.

After each score, Tyzik pointed the audience’s attention to the players who then took a bow. He, like a noble leader, was reminding us stakeholders that the VIPs were the people doing the work. Without their commitment, dedication, and talents, we would not be receiving the quality product that we demand and pay for.

5. The conductor trusts his trained and talented musicians.

When Tyzik entered the stage, the symphony was ready to play. Nothing else mattered. Everyone knew their part and was willing to give their best from the start.

As a worthy leader, you must constantly communicate to everyone that the outside stakeholders are depending on your employees to give their best at all times. Instances will occur in which an employee is not able deliver as promised; however, you have an established process for intervention designed to help the employee succeed. This improvement work is done in private; never in front of the customer or the audience.

6. The conductor relies heavily on the first chairs and the practice conductor.

Each secondary level leader—whether it is a first chair, a supervisor, or a lead—works with the individuals to master their job and get the training they need. This level of leader is in place to ensure each employee is ready, capable, and can be counted on.

Tyzik knows that his leadership team will take care of problems that could interfere with the delivery of a perfect product.

As a first-rate leader, you must depend on others to deal with the everyday challenges so that you can put your focus on the big picture and take care of the big problems.

7. The conductor occasionally interfaces with the audience.

Between each score, Tyzik would talk to us about the music, what we could expect, and sometimes tell a story. As a courteous leader of both the team and organization, your obligation is to keep a continuous dialogue with outside stakeholders so they know what to expect and feel that they are in-the-know. The stories that you tell are designed to reinforce the culture that your team and organization must have to ensure success and deliver excellence.

Tyzik would occasionally present to us—the audience—the roles some of his musicians played, or about the content of the product—the music. Because he is a well-mannered leader, Tyzik understands his job is to put the spotlight on those elements and off himself. While Tyzik was the visible face of the Symphony at that event, he made sure that the stakeholders knew it was simply a role he was expected to play. The music and final product was delivered because of the musicians’ efforts, not his.

I really enjoyed myself that day because the music, consisting of memorable themes of great film classics such as Jaws, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones, was very polished. While relaxing and allowing the music to take me away, I witnessed great leadership in action simply by paying attention the conductor.