Famous conductors

Here’s a useful metaphor:

Famous conductors are often judged for an hour or two on stage. They wear expensive clothes, make dramatic gestures and receive ovations. They also get paid a lot to carry a very little stick and they’re the only one on stage who doesn’t make noise.

But it turns out that none of these things are what makes a great conductor.

What we’re not seeing:

  • Conductors set the agenda.
  • They have done the reading and understand what has come before.
  • They work to establish the culture of the organization.
  • They amplify the hard work and esprit de corps of some, while working to damp down the skeptics within the organization.
  • They figure out which voices to focus on, when.
  • They have less power than it appears, and use their position to lead, not manage.
  • They show up to rehearsal with an agenda and a path forward.
  • They raise money.
  • They transform a lot of ‘me’s’ into one ‘us’.
  • They develop a point of view. And they balance it with what the listener, the patron and the musicians all need.
  • They stick with it for decades.

It’s a form of leadership that happens in private, but once in a while, we see it on stage.