Maestro Manager

Orchestra conductor



The famous early 20th Century conductor, Arturo Toscanini, known for his passion and perfectionism, was walking down the steps of the concert hall to his waiting car.

The chauffeur asked him, “Where to, Maestro?”

Toscanini vigorously replied, “Just drive!  They need me everywhere!”

The idea of leader with demigod status used to be quite in vogue.

Thankfully, the autocratic “my way or the highway” leader has fallen out of fashion.

But just because Toscanini wielded power with an iron baton, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

The metaphor of the a leader as orchestra conductor is terrific.

The best conductors are incredible leaders.  They know that leadership is part skill and part art.  It takes passion and full engagement; on the part of the conductor, as well as as the orchestra.

The job of the conductor is to coax the best performance possible out of each of her players.  Remember:  she’s the only one in the group who doesn’t make any sound.  Her results are dependent on the results of others.

Isn’t this precisely the role of leadership in all organizations?

“Employee Engagement” has become quite the catchphrase over the last few years.  It’s been shown to affect a whole host of valuable company metrics, including profitability and retention.

As we think about employee engagement, it’s easy to think about the employee part of engagement.  Yet the critical factor as to whether an employee is engaged or not can be answered by this question:

What’s your relationship with your immediate supervisor?

Employee engagement follows directly from leader engagement.

When managers are disengaged, it’s a noxious work environment.   Everyone’s holding their breath, just waiting for the weekend and the next paycheck.

As managers, we regulate the engagement thermostat.

What does it take to turn up the dial?  Active involvement.  Consider these questions:

  1. Do you model engagement, in a way that inspires and motivates others?
  2. Do you know anything about your team members’ lives outside of work?  How much?
  3. Do you know your team members’ goals and aspirations?
  4. How often would the word “fun” describe what it’s like to be on your team?
  5. How much do you manage performance informally outside of the formal performance management structures?
  6. Do your people think of feedback as the “F” word?
  7. Do you support your people, or do you expect them to support you?   

Consider your answers to these questions.  Or, better, yet, ask your people what they think of you.  Then, act on the results.

Before you make beautiful music, you have to hear how things really sound now.  Too many executives live in their own cones of silence, and hear what they want to.  What kind of leader do you aspire to be?

Mediocre, Middle-of-the-Road, or Maestro…the choice is up to you.

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