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Reflections on recent music and leadership events | Exart Performances

Reflections on recent music and leadership events

From a virtuoso choral motet by J.S. Bach to the string orchestra idiom by Edvard Grieg – the musician as a performing expert, deeply true to the aesthetic heritage, creates a special canvas for leadership innovation and exploration. Not by changing his or her practise in music making to “sell” the idea to the corporate management, but by articulating what the musical potential of the score needs.

Often we are met with the assumption that artists are the foremost deliverers of innovation. The deeply trained sensitivity and life-long occupation with the masterpieces of the repertoire have given musicians a special insight and sharpened their instincts for reaching beauty and excellence in performance. But how are these aspects transferred to other sectors of society?

Two quite successful recent events have showed me some important aspects of the ability of classical music to illustrate the nature of cooperation between skilled experts in the performing arts.

In Amsterdam Vox Luminis joined me for an 8-part motet by J.S. Bach: “Komm, Jesu Komm” – one of the most virtuoso pieces of choral music you can find in the broad classical tradition from the baroque period. Demonstrating this in an integrated workshop with senior figures from the global leadership of Mölnlycke, several key points came to life. In particular, the relationship between the formally appointed leader and the group of peers or “quasi-peers”, which exists both between the singers in a vocal chamber ensemble as well as between directors and regional CEOs of a global company.

Molnycke Bach Session

In what ways do the skilled experts benefit from the actions of a formally appointed leader? Do the singers in a normally non-conducted ensemble actually need a conductor?

This workshop was organised by Trompenaars Hampden-Turner Consulting and connected their themes of dilemmas in cultures with the direct illustrations made through music-making of similar key topics like “long term sustainability vs. urgent proof of results” and “top down vs. bottom up decision making”. The latter, in particular was very nicely pinpointed by the ensemble performing very well on their own and at the same time allowing the conductor to implement his own version of the music and influence the expertise of the singers.

We will have a video of this event soon and will share how music can illustrate even more deeply the case of these dilemma solving exercises, and how progress in the music making can help to understand the necessary embodiment of intellectual aspects of maturing leadership.

In Munich the Siemens Global Leadership Center invited a set of string players from the Badische Kammerphilharmonie to perform and function as a canvas for leadership development for their senior managers. In music written for strings by W.A. Mozart: “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” and Edvard Grieg: “From Holberg’s time” the orchestra demonstrated the diversity of the ensemble and the collective impact of music making.

The Top Managers Course had deliberately begun with an dual agenda combining “entrepreneurship” and “courage of leadership”. What could be more relevant here than entering the arena of the ensemble, in the position of the conductor, to explore the effect of the limelight on personal leadership instincts and decision making ability. Instruments tend to have a less sensitive sound-affinity with the conductor compared with voices, but nevertheless the Siemens group created a full-scale sound pattern of the different expressions you can find in the string orchestra.

Rather than the Mölnlycke dilemma solving aspirations, the Siemens leaders created a narrative around the responsibility for the single leader and the necessity of taking charge and joining the band at the same time. An extremely interesting mental distance between the conductor and the ensemble was crossed, with an emerging picture of the inclusive, serving leader with a great passionate approach. For some this was really difficult, but all felt it to be an “offer you can’t refuse”, to quote a famous moving picture.

As always it was surprising how engaging these experiments can be for all of us, and there was little doubt that the mutual inspiration can work just as well with this double instrumental approach – string instruments for a training mode of leadership. This kind of musical ensemble is old enough and the performing group is robust enough as an organisational entity to sustain its own inherit logic and loyalty towards the composer’s ideas and its own delicate mastery.

Both events this week contained an extra dimension in comparison with the already succesful basic models of music and leadership surveys, and we should think about further integrating the “raw” power of the aesthetics of such pieces of music. Easier said than done, as the advanced demonstrations must stand on the shoulders of an action learning approach based on full participation.


About author
Conductor, speaker and founder of Exart Performances. Associate Fellow at Oxford University - Saïd Business School
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