Leadership in Three Time Zones . . .


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 homepage-news-imageof 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 Conductor Vasily Petrenkoinstruments 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, edespecially 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.

A multi-dimensional time zone juggling act if I ever heard of one.bigstockphoto_business_man_juggling_his_time_1326922

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

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About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
This entry was posted in Classical Music, consulting, corporate culture, John R Childress, leadership, Organization Behavior, strategy execution and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Leadership in Three Time Zones . . .

  1. Michael McNally says:

    Entertaining, informative and wise! A metaphor in the making. Thanks for sharing this insight!


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