Music, leadership - and growth

Economy May 18, 2012 00:00

By Jean-Francois Cousin

5,900 Viewed

How to make your staff and organisation achieve higher levels of performance


How can you, as a leader, grow the capability of your people and your organisation faster in permanent change and through crisis? 
The chambers of commerce of seven countries – The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland and Denmark – organised a dinner-talk for some practical answers from Ajarn Kriengsak Niratpattanasai and myself.
As music is inspiring to us all, and learning from successful and unsuccessful orchestra conductors can be tremendously useful, here is the story of an outstanding ‘maestro’.
Private jet? Yacht? Castles? This multi-millionaire had them all, and much more. What’s so surprising? It is that the gentleman, Herbert von Karajan, was an orchestra conductor, and such a job, although glamorous, does not pay much usually. He made his fortune by achieving unparalleled greatness in the world of classical music through amazingly high standards of leadership. 
At the beginning of his career, he was a highly demanding and “micro-managing” conductor, explaining in great details to his musicians how he wanted them to play, and then rehearsing dozens of times the difficult parts of symphonies and operas. Extreme hard work for just ordinary results…
Then, Karajan learnt how to ride horses. When his trainer asked him to jump with the horse, Karajan was terrified as he could not “figure out how to have such a huge animal take off in the air and pass over a 1.50 metre-high hay”. Anyway, he rode his horse towards the obstacle, paralysed with fear and unable to do anything… And the horse just jumped over the bar… all by himself. The lesson Karajan took away was of tremendous importance for his career: “There is so much an orchestra can do if you trust it to go all the way; the conductor really has only to manage the 2-3 per cent to perfection.” 
And indeed, the vast audiences watching Karajan conduct orchestras in the second part of his career were amazed to see him so restrained in his gestures. Musicians were also surprised at the beginning… Traditionally, brass players are the ‘loud mouths’ in orchestras, and once –  in London – a trumpet player dared to ask him: “Maestro, with all due respect, when should I start playing my tune?” because Karajan’s gestures were limited and rather imprecise. And the chief just answered “when you feel it’s the time”. Journalists were also mystified. And one questioned Karajan: “Maestro, why don’t you give precise indications to your orchestras?” Karajan finally shed light on the apparent magic: “Because that’s the worst damage I could do to them: then musicians would not listen to each other.”
A poignant testimony to Karajan’s exceptional leadership is his last concert, when he already was extremely weak. Although his body could hardly move, the orchestra played a music that all critics deemed divine.  As Lao Tsu said: “The hallmark of a great leader is that when he is gone, people say ‘we did it ourselves’”. You can watch videos of Karajan along his career at:
Now let’s come back to you! May I suggest you reflect about:
_ How much more can you get from your team… by doing less yourself?
_ How can you motivate your team members to take more initiatives?  (in line with the provocative slogan: “here people get killed only for not trying”.) 
_ How much do you encourage… failure (within calculated risks)? 
_ What can you do to have your team members listen more to each other and play as a team? (dropping the “me” for the “we”)
You may like to start with small steps, keeping in mind what Patton said: “Don't tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”. 
Your rewards? May be not a private jet, a yacht and castles … but certainly more time to focus on what matters most … to achieve greatness, whilst demonstrating trust to your subordinates and followers.
Now let’s raise the bar and consider how leaders should prepare their organisations to better handle severe crisis … 
An article in Harvard Business Review entitled “leading in [permanent] crisis” took lessons from the 2008-2009 crisis about successful and unsuccessful leadership styles in crisis time. The authors established that leaders must help to create in their organisations:
_ More agility 
_ Speed in decision-making 
_ More adaptability from staff (in continuing uncertainty and uncontrollable changes) 
_ More robust anticipation
_ More thinking, more experiments
_ Better calculated risk-taking
_ More diversity
_ More leadership at all levels of the organisation
_ More trust and team-play amongst co-workers
How can you practically make this happen? Here are nine of my tips.
1. Let your team go, to see how far they can go by themselves, just as Herbert von Karajan did! Empowering your people activate many fundamental human motivational drivers: self-esteem, learning, relationships and freedom.
2. Be reasonably optimistic: nurture the belief that we can win in any circumstance. In any economic situation, there are losers and winners; some companies win market share, some others lose market share; employees’ mindset can make or break the opportunity. 
3. Build genuine trust amongst your team members. As a leader, be a role-model and honest and have self-awareness: acknowledge your mistakes and weaknesses, say when you don’t know, so that your people feel it’s okay to do so, and become more genuine and therefore trustworthy. Focus on what matters, ban politics from the workplace. Invite people to challenge you and acknowledge that nobody is perfect but together we can be closer to perfection. 
4. Build team players who drop the ‘me’ for the ‘we’. Show your people how good they can perform together as a team, help each of them “shine” so team members “look up” to each other, and have growing pride of their team.
5. Require people to think ‘DD’ – deeper and differently. Simply invite your people to do it regularly, and they will become more comfortable at it over time.
6. Value initiative, experiment and encourage. Kick out “fear to fail” from the organisation, and reward reasonable risk-taking. Value the learning from mistakes, within calculated risks.
7. Favour diversity: ensure highly competent women can make it to the top; a recent survey published by Harvard Business Review found out through 7,000 360-degree surveys that women leadership competencies were rated more highly than men leadership competencies, and more so for women in higher-level positions.
8. Nurture productive conflict: ensure conflicts focus on ideas, not on personalities, and acknowledge the high value of conflict resolution for the organisation and people’s respect of each other.
9. Probe business cases ruthlessly: check that “worst-case scenario” is really worst-case, and that the reaction of competition has been anticipated realistically.