When Collaborative Action Becomes Music: Leading Like a Conductor

Posted on May 11, 2017

“And suddenly, out of the chaos, noise becomes music…” – Itay Talgam

When it comes to leading a team through a journey of change, discovery, or the realising of a new possibility, what can be learnt from the great conductors of our time about how to fully leverage the diversity of individuals within the group and guide them forward as a harmonious, aligned and impactive collective?

Itay Talgam, once an orchestral conductor now a “conductor of people”, works with organisations to help everyday people develop a musician’s sense of collaboration and a conductor’s sense of leadership (see his Maestro Leadership Program). In his Ted Talk ‘Lead like the great conductors’ Itay compares different types of conducting styles, evoking powerful and pragmatic metaphors for how we might regard and relate to various leadership styles:

The four different styles Itay describes might be summarised in the following way:

1. The conductor leads the orchestra by emphasising the gestures of the music: opening up a space for the musicians to add their own layer of interpretation of how the music should be played. In this way, leading is about creating conditions for a process of interpretive sharing to take place. The score lives inside each individual, as a guideline for them to use their instrument to tell their own interpretation of this musical story into the space opened by the leader.

2. The conductor leads the orchestra by taking full responsibility for the narrative of the music. The score lives in the interpretation of the leader alone and in this way, leading is about instruction – the musicians are instruments, delivering the telling of the leader’s interpretation of the story.


Image source: Aaron Paul, www.unsplash.com

3. The conductor leads the orchestra by showing precision to the way the music is scripted. The score is not open for interpretation/ ‘interference’- rather, the score is something separate from both leader and team. In this way, leading is about guiding the team to faithfully execute the written music.

4. The conductor leads the orchestra by allowing the team of musicians to really listen to one another, enabling the music to unfold through them, as a collaborative dynamic of individuals, moment by moment. The score lives within the network of synchronised individuals. In this way leading is about enabling a network of players to discover a unison and harmony through the act of participating in bringing the score into being.

“The forces of the process itself keep the players in place” – Itay Talgam

How does considering the process you are leading as a piece of music, change your ideas on how you might choose to lead your team? How do the different conducting styles influence the orchestra’s experience of creating the music? Which of these styles most closely resembles the experience you want your team to have as they collaborate together?

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