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Breathing Together - Leadership Lessons from Musical Ensembles - Eugene Lee at TEDx AmericanRiviera 11-11-11


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Eugene Lee's talk at TEDx AmericanRiviera drawing leadership and management lessons from orchestra conducting and chamber music. Link to the YouTube video recording embedded in the first slide.

Eugene Lee's talk at TEDx AmericanRiviera drawing leadership and management lessons from orchestra conducting and chamber music. Link to the YouTube video recording embedded in the first slide.

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  • (inspired by the weather)Isn’t the power of the ensemble amazing?Little things done together = big thingsMusic groups but also everyday workOne of the greatest joys of leadershipMy lifelong journey of learning leadership – which I am still only part of the way through, given how much I have yet to learn – started in an unusual way
  • Yeah I was “one of those Asian kids”2nd grader playing recitals in front of full school assemblyMom proudly describes herself as the prototype of the Tiger MomI hated the piano
  • The Dins went to Bermuda every Spring Break. I had a great time in College
  • The words that come to mind are:Commanding, directive, even controllingMusicians who’ve suffered this have an old saying – “What do dictators want to be when they grow up? … Conductors”So most lay people’s impression of a conductor’s job is to direct each beat, the volume, the tempoConductor’s REAL leadership job is summarized by the difference between these two pictures
  • This is what an individual musician sees – just his or her own notes
  • This is what the conductor sees – every instrument’s notes are all on one pageIt’s all about CONTEXT
  • Each musician sees only their partTheir single piece of the overall puzzle
  • And it’s only the conductor who sees the whole picture.Sir Thomas Beecham once quipped “There are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between.”He was being sarcastic, of course. Sure he has to get everyone to play together, but that’s just mechanics.First the conductor has to create an interpretation of the music – story, emotional impact – VISION of the performanceAnd then lead the orchestra to achieve that vision togetherSo what do leaders in the “real world” do?
  • Lay out a roadmap for how to get there
  • Work with management to align groups
  • Set metrics so people can tell how they’re doingAnd then when the team achieves their goals,
  • the leader stands on stage and takes all the credit (ha ha)
  • The San Francisco Symphony, my favorite band, and their music director Michael Tilson Thomas, have produced a fantastic series for PBS called “Keeping Score”. The first episode gives a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of what it takes to prepare a warhorse – Tchaikovsky’s 4th. With their blessings, let’s look at how MTT does exactly these leadership tasks:
  • [after clip end]I think leaders create vision by playing the future in their heads, imagining and experimenting with different alternatives, and always striving to inspire their teams beyond the mundane.
  • [after clip ends]Next you have to get this vision out of your head and communicate it to your teamOK maybe it’s through presentations and not rehearsals, but it’s the same thingAnd using stories, images, and analogies can help the team see the same vision
  • [after clip ends]By the way that’s “Find each other” not “Fight each other”MTT could have TOLD his players how to play each note, but painting the vision is so much more powerfulAnd working with the leaders in the organization – the concertmaster in this clip – goes one step furtherIt helps him SELL the vision to the team
  • Encouraging
  • Reminding
  • CoaxingAnd sometimes…
  • Gently correctingTo use geeky business language – he’s a live and moving performance dashboard for the orchestraIn the real world – do your teams now how they’re doing – the connection between their work and the ultimate goal?As it’s happening, or only at the end of the quarter?
  • Cues are powerful. There’s a fascinating eye contact connection between the conductor and the musician during the cue – cues are energizing
  • Cues are public – they guide the audience’s attention to the instrument about to play.When the cue is for a group or section, and that group breathes together in anticipation, cues create cohesionThink about the power of the cue in your own workWhen a team starts a new project when the rhythm of work moves from one group to anotherA public gesture – a cue - by the leader gets the next group ready, and directs attention to the group that now needs more support.Imagine getting your teams to look at each other and breathe together
  • Now let’s go to the other end of the spectrum from a world class symphony orchestra to an amateur piano trioThe next few clips are from an excellent DVD by Gillian Rogell, the director of chamber music at the New England Conservatory of MusicLet’s watch an amateur group rehearse a Beethoven trio with Gillian as their coach:
  • Are you talkin’ to ME?First time I saw this my hands got sweaty recalling teams I’ve been in or observedTeams which “management” thought had been given clear objectivesBut they didn’t have any idea of how they fit into the bigger picture, or even what the big picture wasSo they ended up debating tactical detailsTempting to try to help struggling teams by giving them technical details and direction“Do that this way by next Tuesday”But that kind of coaching doesn’t help the group gel or see the forest for the treesWorse, it makes them dependent on the coach to resolve disagreementsSound familiar?Instead of saying “play these notes this long”, watch how Gillian – by coaching to the concept – completely unblocks the group
  • Amazing progress from 30 seconds of coachingMy takeaway – coach to the concept, not the technique
  • Point things out while the video playsMove togetherLook at all that eye contactCellist moves before he playsLook, breathe, and play togetherIsn’t that beautiful?You can almost see the music flow from one instrument to another by watching their eyes and body movementsNo one leader, but they’re breathing togetherWouldn’t it be awesome if teams at work could achieve this level of flow – listening to each other, watching each other, and breathing together?
  • Not just by sharing information, but by increasing transparencyPeople know what colleagues are doing – activities shared as they workPeople build networks of knowledge based on value, not politics or org chartsConversations cross silosThis helps people watch each other and breathe togetherHelps leaders give feedback in the flow, leverage the power of the cueOK, so I’ve talked a lot about leadership lessons drawn from music groups, but there is one huge mega important difference for leaders in non-musical organizations:
  • YOU GET TO WRITE YOUR OWN MUSIC!Not hamstrung by the intentions of some guy who’s been dead for 200 yearsYou get to compose big pieces on a blank score, imagine the impact your team can have, and inspire them to dream and achieve big things
  • So when you go back to your day jobs after this amazing event, I’d like to challenge you to try out these leadership lessons gleaned from musical ensemblesCreate your visionCommunicate and sell itThe power of the cueGive feedback during the performanceCoach to the concept, not the techniqueHelp your teams watch each other, listen to each other, and breathe togetherAnd at the end – thank and acknowledge your teams BEFORE you take your bowNOW GET OUT THERE AND LEAD!Thank you!
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