I recently saw a video of a “flash mob” orchestra (the Orquestra Simfònica del Vallès) in Spain performing Ode to Joy. The performance started with a bass player who was joined shortly by a cellist. As more musicians entered the scene, a conductor appeared. It would almost seem the conductor wasn’t necessary. After all, the musicians are all experts in their own right. They had been playing beautifully before the conductor appeared. But wait, as the rest of the orchestra joins in, the tempo quickens, the piece becomes more complex. Each musician (I counted at least 35 plus a choral group) has a different contribution which must be closely coordinated with the others. Is the conductor really necessary?
Could they have produced a successful performance that day without the conductor? Perhaps, but it would have been much more difficult. In fact, the conductor has already done the majority of his work before the performance starts. He is not an expert in each member’s specialty. He doesn’t need to be. That’s not his job. Rather, he has led countless rehearsals and coached the orchestra’s members, collectively and individually, to achieve peak performance. Just planning and coordinating the entrance of the musicians that day; not too quickly, but in time for the whole orchestra to be in place for the more complex parts of the performance, must have been quite a challenge.
There’s another facet of leadership on display. Watch the video (the link is at the end of the article). You will notice that some of the children watching are waving their hands as though they are conducting. Their hands move in sync with the music. Watch the conductor. He seems to be out of sync with the orchestra. But he isn’t. In fact, this is a great demonstration of the essence of real leadership. The conductor is actually slightly ahead of the orchestra. He sets the pace and leads them. The musicians don’t look to the conductor to see where they are but to be clear about where they are going.
Great leaders build excellent teams. Each team member is a capable individual essential to the mission and goals. The leader molds them into a team. When the team reaches a high level of excellence, the leader is still there, not telling them specifically what to do, but setting the tempo and staying just a little ahead to show the team where to go. Working together, they make beautiful music.