Itay Talgam led the Orchestre de Paris, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Leipzig Opera House as a conductor.
But for the past several years he’s been a “conductor of people” instead.
He’s led classes for Goldman Sachs, Google, Intel, national security agencies, global NGOs, and Ivy league universities, demonstrating how they can learn from the leadership styles of the world’s most famous orchestra conductors.
Here are seven leadership styles and their implications for their teams.
Arturo Toscanini, the biggest brand name ever, became synonymous with the profession of conducting. He was a dictator of sorts and would scream, swear, and throw objects when things did not go his way. Players loved and feared him, and he was as harsh on himself as he was with others. He was strict but fair, paternal and protective. But in this father-child relationship, shame and guilt play a certain role in models of behaviour.
If a leader is like Toscanini, they need to reevaluate what their family’s values are, and how to make it a more stable family to be part of.
The Leader as Guru
Called the emporer, Herbert von Karajan never opened his eyes to look at the musicians. He was the center of the show, expecting players to know his wishes or desires. He did not use clear hand signals to show the players where the beat was, allowing a fascinating gap to occur. Detailed pratices and meticulous training for his muscicians meant they knew what he wanted when he was conducting. The principle players would actually conduct the rest of the players, and it was organic and successful.
Avoiding clarity was how he made sure they listened to each other, but a lack of direction can be unnerving.
Command and Control
To Riccardo Muti, control is the most important thing. He doesn’t trust others to self-organise, so he makes his messages overly clear. There is no room for “gaps,” and no mistakes allowed, even if they took you somewhere better.
This style has a chilling effect, leaving your colleagues with no room to manoeuvre. And what is the point of having a group of educated and talented people working for you if they can’t go their own way a bit?
Play by the Book
One of the towering figures of 20th century music, Richard Strauss’ conducting style shows eyelids half-shut, and very small and monotonous hand movements. Nothing is proactive, and there are no gaps allowed because musicians leave themselves at the door: they play in a detatched and professional style, without passion. He would help players gain self-confidence by only criticising if there was a mistake.
Refusing to let people interpret the score (or work) on their own carries a price. If you instead allow others to execute what you design, you may get something better.
Carlos Kleiber conducted with his whole body. The “conductor’s conductor”, he demanded musicians’ constant involvement in interpretation.
The gaps he left were logical and his players understood them. Guided by the process, they could create.
More autonomy means you can adapt and change as the situation requires.
Everyone should be brought on board from the very beginning, as in his orchestra, which is then subject to fine tuning by all parties.
In Search of Meaning
Leonard Bernstein would go beyond the score to search the music for deeper meaning. He allowed everyone to grow as a group and as individuals. He refused to compartmentalise his emotions, intellect, or politics. Everything was mixed together in the music, summoning the whole person in an all-encompassing dialogue.
This needs partnership, and he the player to take responsibility for his side of the dialogue. At the center stands meaning: the why of doing this, and about our intentions, values and emotions. We all must be soloists and members of the ensemble.
Adapted from “The Ignorant Maestro: How Great Leaders Inspire Unpredictable Brilliance” by Itay Talgam with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright (c) Itay Talgam, 2015.
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