My daughter was leader of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain for the 2014-2015 concert season and over the past several years has been fortunate enough to play under the skilled baton of numerous excellent classical music conductors, including Vasily Petrenko (pictured), Simone Young, Sir Mark Elder, Paul Daniel, François-Xavier Roth and Edward Gardner (pictured).
The National Youth Orchestra is made up of 165 young people aged 13-19 and each year they have three courses, Winter, Spring and Summer, of 10 days each followed by three successive concerts in major venues around the UK, including the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Konzerthaus in Berlin.
While the young players learn tons about how an orchestra works and how all the various instruments and parts fit together, they also get to see very different styles of conducting and orchestra leadership. All are experienced and professional conductors, but their styles are very different, yet each is effective at merging 165 individuals into a collective, high performance orchestra.
We were having dinner one evening and my daughter was talking about the craft of conducting. She is an aspiring young conductor so watches every conductor intently for style, technique and musical expression. Stephanie had a very interesting insight about the mental world of a conductor.
Basically, the conductor has to be simultaneously in three different time zones.
She explained is like this: The conductor has to live in the Future, that is, knowing the score so well that he/she knows what is coming up next, what transitions are required, whether the mood or tempo is about to change and thus can get ready to lead the orchestra properly when the time arrives. In essence, living in the future.
At the same time, a conductor must live in the past. Understand what just happened, especially if there was a mistake by one of the sections coming in late or a wrong chord or note was played in a solo. By understanding what just happened, the conductor can work to make corrections and put the orchestra back on track.
And yet, the conductor must also live in the present, being “at one” with each note, phrase and the overall theme and “picture” of the piece as is being played, in order to give the proper cues to the sections and deliver a unified interpretation.
Later on in the evening after everyone was in bed, I began to think about leaders and the craft of leadership. It dawned on me that a successful business leader, like a professional classical music conductor, has to live simultaneously in those same three time zones.
The future is about seeing over the horizon and anticipating changes in markets or technologies that might throw the company off course. A big part of being successful as a CEO or business leader is the ability to “bring the future forward”, to see things others don’t see that have yet to materialize and getting the company prepared, in advance. In this category falls such important activities as executive development, capability building, investments in R&D, listening to the voice of the customer, tracking global and industry trends, hiring now for future needs, seeking out acquisitions.
Living in the past is about being able to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and constantly using the 5 Whys to understand root cause. To not be limited or burdened by the past, but to learn from it and not to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Equally important is to use the past to celebrate and recognize people and achievements. It is also important to use the past, especially stories from the past, to reinforce and sustain the company values and culture.
And of course, a successful leader must live fully in the present at the same time. It is only in the present that real change takes place, that coaching is effective. Relationships can only be built in the present. A leader who lives too much in the past or the future misses tons of opportunities to guide and influence people and the organization in the Here and Now.
So, you want to improve your leadership? Adjust your internal time zones!
John R. Childress
Senior Executive Advisor on Leadership, Culture and Strategy Execution Issues,
Business Author and Advisor to CEOs
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
+44-7833-493-999 uk mobile
Just published: LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture