'The conductor, often referred to as the orchestra 'leader', does not play a musical instrument, nor sing an aria; He does not recite lines; he appears in no chorus or ballet. He does none of those things. Indeed, for want of the talents they require, he could not do any of those things. Yet he renders an indispensible service. He draws out the gifts of others; he coordinates, motivates, inspires; quietly and almost unnoticed, he makes the entire production happen. Such a picture of leadership should perhaps find an analogue in the administrative decision making processes..'
- Robert T. Kennedy 'Shared Responsibility in Ecclesial Decision Making'
The leader as conductor of an orchestra is an excellent metaphor that has been explored in many books.
James Jeffery, a journalist, recently wrote about his experience in conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Read these extracts and recognise in a conductor, the qualities of the authentic Leader in any field.
'When you’re conducting...part of what you’re having to do is process everything in as close to real time as you possibly can. You have to both process the now, what’s going on right when you’ve heard it; and the things that are constantly getting further in the past, making decisions whether there are things that need to be referred to, whether it’s something you can do the next time, whether it’s something you need to stop on, whether there’s a particular player or section that has a problem and if they need your attention visually while the music is still going on. And then you’re constantly aware of what is coming so you can be prepared to make the gestures that allow that music to happen.
'So there’s this almost field theory way of looking at time, where you don’t just exist in the now, you exist in the present, past and future simultaneously.
'It’s about creating an environment in which everybody feels not only that they can give their best but that they can take chances. Great things don’t happen without people really trying to take chances.
'Part of your job is to make it so that the musicians have the best chance collectively to engage with the music and to get better as a group as (well as) they possibly can — so you’re also kind of involved in cognitive psychology. What is it that allows people to do their best, how do they perceive information and take it in, what amount can you give things, what’s the best way to handle the group dynamic at any particular moment?
'What [orchestra members] respond to most is trust. I’ll be honest, none of [the orchestra members] trusted you at all. It had nothing to do with the way you were moving your arms, it was the terror in your eyes, the ‘Oh my God, what am I doing here?”....While we were instinctively able to follow your arm movements, we knew instinctively that you were not to be trusted.
'If you look back in history at the sort of figures conductors cut, you look at Bernstein, you look at (Herbert) von Karajan, walking around with cashmere jackets draped over their shoulders, walking in as if they owned, well, they did own the place. The way they walk into the rehearsal affects the way we start to play.
'The hardest thing for a conductor to do is to have the conviction of their beliefs, to tell 100 people in front of them, who know the music inside out, that their way is correct. That is why they have such thick skin, and why they’re paid so much more money, because they have to believe it, make us believe it, and make the audience believe it. And that’s what they’re there for, otherwise it’s a committee.
'In a sense, the complexities of conducting equal the complexities of communication between people....There’s a certain point at which you become like Wittgenstein — ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ At the same time, Laurie Anderson quite correctly in her response to that says, ‘But can you point at it?’ So there is a sense in which you try to bring out the ineffable, but you’re not able to do it, so you just point at it.'