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Kenneth W. Keller: Using leadership and teamwork to make beautiful music

Inside Business

Posted: June 2, 2009 3:24 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

A group of musicians gathered together for the purpose of playing in harmony to provide beautiful music for an assembled audience. It was a simple goal, easy to describe, understood by all, yet difficult to execute. The desired result was to sound like one rich instrument.

Each musician had a copy of the plan in the form of sheet music. The plan was right in front of them, at every practice and during the entire performance.  The symphony needed a leader. Its leader was the conductor.

The conductor knew what each member of the symphony should be doing. He was in a unique position to help everyone shine in their performance by making sure they adhered to the plan. The conductor was the accepted and acknowledged leader of the symphony.

Each member of the symphony had his or her part to perform. Some were in supportive roles. Some did solo performances.

Regardless of the instrument played, all had the same goal. Personalities did not come into play. They were all in alignment with the goal.

The conductor was an accomplished musician. He understood that people knew if the symphony practiced, because a poor performance was easy to hear. Knowing this, the conductor scheduled and held practice so that when the performance took place, the team was ready. The conductor knew, as did the musicians, that even professionals need a lot of practice to be at their best.

It would be very easy for several musicians to drown out their fellow member’s performances. Everyone knows the percussion or brass could easily drown out an oboe. But by doing so, the oboe’s sound would be lost. The symphony, individually and as a team, understood why it is very hard to distinguish any individual member’s instrument as they played, unless doing a solo.  

During one piece of music that was performed, a percussionist rang a bell 13 times. Thirteen rings of a bell was the percussionist’s contribution to that particular piece of music. It could be argued that the violins and horns worked harder, played longer and were responsible for the majority of the sound that the symphony generated. Yet every musician knew and accepted that without those 13 taps on the bell, the music would not have been complete; the music would not have been as beautiful as possible.

Those playing solos needed the support of all the musicians, just as the symphony needed those 13 chimes of the bell. This support helped achieve the excellence they were looking for in their personal performance. The musicians played their part by contributing their skills where and when they were most needed. The team respected every contribution.  

Hearing some 60 musicians start and stop at the same time is a wonder. How do they do it? They do it with practice and the firm direction of the conductor. The symphony needed a capable conductor to insure its timing was perfect.

During the concert, a trumpet player hit a wrong note. Everyone knew the trumpet player was embarrassed. No one stopped; no one chastised him. The music kept moving; everyone kept playing. The trumpet player recovered and played beautifully for the rest of the performance. He had the support of his fellow musicians.

At the end of the concert, neither the conductor nor any team member acknowledged the mistake. Except for that single mistake, he did a wonderful job and that is what the team concentrated on. The focus was on the successful achievement of the team goal, not on mistakes made.

When the concert concluded, the audience applauded for the symphony. The conductor took a bow. Each musician took a bow. The applause was the group’s music  and for each individual. The applause was shared and so was the success.  

As a business owner, are you conducting or playing an instrument with the musicians? Does your version of a symphony have a goal? Does everyone know what the goal is? Is everyone in alignment with the goal? Have you scheduled enough practice sessions, or are you having performances before people are ready? Is everyone supporting one another? When someone makes a mistake, how do you handle it? Who bows for the applause?

Kenneth Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.   



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