Last updated on July 9th, 2024 at 03:25 pm

by Dr. Tim Glaid

“A conductor should guide rather than command.”

Riccardo Muti (b. 1941, Naples Italy), Conductor, Chicago Symphony Orchestra 

I am a believer that within every cloud, there is a silver lining. Over the past two years, our world has experienced a global pandemic of significant proportions. Covid-19 has forced months of isolations, stay-at-home periods, quarantine stays, and the avoidance of socialization as once was the norm. Throughout this time, I focused on fulfilling a lifelong goal of learning to play the guitar. I only wish I hadn’t waited into my mid-60s to begin this journey; however, I approach the challenge one day at a time.

I have always enjoyed music, dating back to a first communion gift I received of a transistor radio in 1962. For years thereafter, I went to bed each night with that cord and single ear plug inserted, as I listened to the local AM stations playing “music for young lovers”.

Inspired by own son’s command of music and guitar playing, I began using the Internet and YouTube resources to learn to play the primary guitar chords. Over the past two years, I have accumulated a few hundred singalong songs, and I enjoy constantly adding to my playlist. Recently, I have begun to volunteer at local nursing homes, as I entertain geriatric audiences in hopes of giving them reason to remember fun and loving times. All of my songs for this audience are at least 50 years old, with some of their favorites such as Bye Bye Blackbird, Hello Dolly, When You’re Smiling, Hokey Pokey, Hey Good Looking, and many others from their generation. In July of this year, I finally began private weekly guitar lessons, and I look forward to learning how to read and play notes, apply proper timing techniques, perfect scales, and easily recognize tablature notations. Jimmy Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Eric Clapton I am not, however, once again, I am taking my growth and development one day at a time.

As a lifelong learner, and someone fascinated with all aspects of leadership, I often perceive my environment through the frame of the leadership present or absent within each situation. This is true in my recent orientation of guitar playing.

In this month’s leadership blog, I share many of the lessons originally suggested by Esther Murimi, in her article “5 Leadership Lessons Musicians Can Teach the World” (February 20, 2016).

Musicians have a lot to offer the world in the form of an art with the ability to touch most every aspect of one’s life.  However, the world of music also offers numerous examples of effective leadership and how people can work together to achieve great things.

Musicians, like executives, face a lot of challenges at their workplace, and their ability to deal with these challenges have a significant impact on their success or otherwise. Some of these challenges include how to foster teamwork, dealing with change, achieving performance value and competing to succeed – challenges that any business executive would be familiar with.

In her article, Marla Tabaka recommends joining a band to fine tune one’s leadership skills:

“If you want to build upon your leadership skills you could spend some time reading biographies of history’s most successful people, from Esteé Lauder to Bill Gates. These folks are great virtual mentors. Don’t stop at the books though; pick up an instrument, sign up for music lessons, and try out for a spot in a local band.”

Research shows that people who learn to play an instrument and go on to play with bands or other musical groups develop strong leadership skills.

On his part, Simon Tam shares five leadership lessons musicians can teach the world:

  1. A leader needs a vision, dream or goal

Before putting his or her musical piece on a score, a musician can already visualize the music. In the same way, leaders need to have a sense of where they are going, be empowered by this and share this with others to empower them as well.

In 2010, Lady Gaga tweeted a photo of herself standing in front of the marquee at Madison Square Garden. Later that night, she explained how she would dream that one day her name would be in lights at the venue. She visualized the experience and used it to fuel her passion, guide her career decisions, and shared her dream with her core team so that she could be held accountable to it.

  1. Leaders recognize their need for others

The best musicians are those that support their fellow musicians. Leading in music is about helping others perform their best work – not just expecting them to.

Those who say “it’s lonely at the top” don’t recognize the support of those following them. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to have a sustainable music career without followers.

…The leadership proverb by John Maxwell puts it best: “He that thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following him is only taking a walk.” Leaders can learn from musicians in building that support network by adding value to others, deeply caring about their followers, and recognizing that big dreams require a team.

  1. Leaders need to learn ‘informed improvisation’

Effective leadership demands that one is able to make smart decisions even when under intense pressure. Such ability is only possible when you are well informed on everything around you so you can accurately anticipate the result of your decision.

John Coltrane, arguably the most influential saxophonist of all time, dazzled fans with his tenor-saxophone improvisation in “Giant Steps.” While the definition of improvisation implies that something is created without preparation, that’s only a half truth: Coltrane, and artists who excel at improvisation, are only able to do so because of the extraordinary lengths they’ve taken to learn and hone their craft. Musicians can often anticipate notes and sounds, which allows them to take informed risks in the moment.

  1. Leaders are about making others look good

Like any great musicians, good leaders are willing to take a humble posture and put their team’s accomplishments above their own. A leader’s success is not independent of his or her team’s success.

Shortly after his death, footage of Michael Jackson rehearsing was released showing his vast attention to detail for the show and his commitment to make sure that everyone on stage looked and sounded perfect. He cared about how the entire ensemble looked, not just himself.

  1. Leaders are self-disciplined

Successful leaders are those that work the hardest and the smartest. They have high expectations for themselves and their team, which is only possible when they make appropriate plans and follow through on the same.

There’s a stereotype that glamorizes the life of touring artists that persists. However, that kind of lifestyle isn’t sustainable for personal health or delivering the best performance possible. In Tam’s band, there is a signed internal agreement about keeping sober on stage, maintaining one’s own skills and equipment, and having a schedule that allows for rest and recovery.

Looking at leadership through the lens or frame of music provides salient lessons and correlation between the two. Music can raise someone’s mood, get them excited, or make them calm and relaxed. Music also allows one to feel nearly or possibly all emotions that are experienced within one’s life. We can only hope we can say the same about our leaders as they share future vision; recognize the needs of others; promote informed improvisation; make others look good; act with discipline; and inspire and motivate us to accomplish more than thought possible!


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