Leadership Through Music

Stockholm, Sweden
April 21-22, 2002

Leadership and the Metaphor of Music

In the era of globalization we have searched frantically to understand the qualities of effective leadership. There is a belief that if we can become better leaders, we can run more successful companies. More books are written on the characteristics of successful leadership that almost any other topic, except perhaps love.

Becoming a leader is a lifelong journey one makes to a greater degree of self-awareness and interpersonal skill. It is about "understanding" and "connecting" with others and moving them forward to new places. Good leadership is not a constant state it is a moment in time when someone steps forward and says, "follow me this way". It is a moment that one has prepared for with all of life’s experiences and it is a circumstance that requires a particular person in a particular context. After the moment has passed, the leader may just as quickly step back and be lead by others. The moment of leadership is as dependent on the circumstances and context as it is on the ability and energy of the individual who chooses to lead.

Developing your ability as a leader is a journey out to the world around you to understand what is changing. It is also about a journey inside yourself to know more about your values, fears, joys, strengths and limitations. In new and uncertain situations it is important to remember that we each have inside, of ourselves, what we need to succeed. The challenge in life is to recognize this and to know how to draw on it when circumstances change.

The self is the instrument in the performance of leadership. Learning about ourselves is the first step in this process. Learning from others in a process that allows for the sharing of different perspectives and experiences is important. Learning from leaders in other disciplines besides business is immensely valuable. Leadership is primarily about the interaction between people and as such, lessons can be found wherever there are people who lead and people who follow.

Lessons from Music for the Leader Today

The world of music has delivered many examples of leadership and of people working together to create great things in times of change. As such it is a valuable metaphor for the individual today to use in understanding his or her leadership personality.

Music and business are both global forces that transcend different languages and geography. Executives or musicians must each find ways to create and innovate to use new technologies, to deal with change and to utilize efficiently the resources they have available to them. Both seek to create value and must compete to succeed. It is these similarities that enable one to learn by watching the ways of the other. Indeed, music and musicians offer insights for anyone to learn more about themselves – how well they listen, communicate and cooperate with others, use their imagination, create or solve problems.

Music is a lens through which we can visit another time or place. The music of Europe through its form and style can tell us much more than history books about the people of that time and the society and economy in which they lived. Music also communicates much about the culture of the region or nation from which it comes.

What can music tell us about our world today? What insights does it offer for understanding the changes taking place around us?
Can music help us to know where we are headed?
How can music teach greater self-understanding and build our confidence in ourselves?


The Self as Instrument

Before stepping forward, a leader must first consider for himself where he stands and what are the goals he wishes to reach. Becoming truly effective at this is an inward journey of self-discovery. Musicians and composers have this journey as their prime responsibility, their prime wish and prime gift.

A musician must also be able to hear himself in order to move his performance to greatness. It is not sufficient to play the notes the right way and to get the timing right. He must envision what he wants to sound like and then really listen to himself – step outside his performance and look back at what he sees and hears. Great performers realize the importance of being able to visualize themselves as they perform.

If one envisions the performance to be mournful and sad – it will be. If one envisions it to be energized and optimistic – it will be. Musicians and other performers have the advantage of being reminded daily that they must perform for others in order to communicate. Most people in business have forgotten that this applies to them as well.

How do you want to be seen and heard?
What is your dream for how your performance should be and how you would perform at your best in it?

Consider the artist Vincent Van Gogh. Why is it that he painted so many self portraits? Compared to Gaugin or the other artists of that time who painted landscapes or people, Van Gogh was consumed with his room, his vase, his house, and his face. Why?

Perhaps it was because Van Gogh was so deeply connected to himself. So much so that many people believed he was insane. He was consumed by his moods, his love for Gaugin, his relationships, the night and being alone. He knew the inside of himself all too well. The self-portrait was his way of stepping outside what he lived with every day and looking back in. Could he portray this face of a man the way he wished the world would see him? Was he searching for the person that the rest of the world saw – while deep inside he saw a different view of himself?

Artists connect with the side of themselves that most of us do not have time to know. They live balanced between inhibition and conformity and between the secrets and emotions we dare not consider in ourselves and the energized optimism of discovering how glorious life can be. The great artist draws on this to create. He walks the line between the world of controlled progress and the other side being a state of insanity of unchecked emotion.

Leadership is as much about a journey inside ourselves as it is about a journey out to the world to understand how it is changing. How do leaders in the global marketplace today make time for this journey inside themselves. If we are to fashion a better world, a better firm and a meaningful role for business in the future – can we do this without understanding first where we stand as individuals and what we envision ourselves to be as leaders of this progress?

The Performance

The other theme of Leadership Through Music is a more visible one than the theme of the Self. It is the skill of getting other people motivated, getting them to where they need to go by providing a process where the leader clearly shows them the way while also letting them find it on their own. The realities of this are influenced by the individuals you are leading, what sort of people they are, what goals or ideas they have and how they feel about you as the leader.

The skillful and effective leader learns how to transmit what is inside himself outward to others while perceiving intensely and clearly what is around him and incorporating that back into action.

Effective communication is the key to success in this process. Communication is made up of many qualities: speaking, observing, sensing, understanding and most importantly listening.

More Information:

2002 Leadership Through Music Agenda Book

List of Participants

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