Lessons from conductors – musings about modern managers

Modern managers deal with a challenge. Mangers have to manage people who know more than they do. In the past, the manager was someone who did the job and was promoted to the management role. That meant that he usually had superior professional knowledge and could teach his employees how to practice the profession.

In many of today’s jobs, that is not the case anymore. Specialization and specific knowledge are commonplace and even if a manager knows about a specific profession, the speed in which profession change and evolve do not allow managers to keep this advantage for long. That is why managers need to learn how to manage people who are more proficient in doing their job then they are. And there are many professions from which mangers can learn how to do that. The profession of a conductor is one of them.

A conductor manages an orchestra to do a task. Create music. He knows and understands music. Perhaps he can play a few instruments. But he cannot do what the musicians in his orchestra are doing. I doubt that every conductor can play every instrument in the orchestra. And like a modern manager, even if he did, he could not do complete the task, the music, alone. He has to rely on his team. He has to facilitate the creation of music.

That is why I think the above TED talk by Itay Talgam is so insightful to modern mangers. By giving examples from famous conductors, Talgam exposes us to different method of management for modern team. As usual, I don’t want to ruin the entire talk for you, as it is a magnificent talk. I just want to point out a few messages I especially liked:

If you are a manger and you wake up every day depressed to go to work you should know something is wrong. If you don’t find joy in working with people, in trying to help them excel, then you are probably in the wrong role. The joy in management is found in enabling others to feel the joy of work all the time. How can you enable them to feel joy? Help them find flow; help them use their strengths a higher percentage of the day. Help them develop personally.  

A manger leads his team, not by control or authority, but by being there a 100% of the time, full in awareness and with a passion to help and enable learning and development. It does not mean that authority is not useful. When it is needed authority is there and should be used, but it is not enough to make the members of your team into partners.

And making your employees your partners is what modern management is all about. The task could not be completed alone. It is a shared journey. Many people today are not satisfied with getting their wages and doing what they are told. People spend a high percentage of their day at work and they want to enjoy it. They want to feel that it is about them. That they are part of the story. And a manager has to remember that. It is not about the manager’s story; it is about the team’s story. The part of the manager is facilitating the building of a shared story for the team.

They way to create a shared story is not using your employees as instruments, but treating them as partners. And if you treat them as partners, the results will follow. It is more than making sure the job gets done. In order to get the job done, you can put processes in place. But a manager needs to think beyond getting the job done and beyond the process. A manager, as a facilitator, needs to create the conditions in which these processes take place. Conditions that lead to flow, joy and happiness.

Authority is not about telling people what to do either. The worst damage you can do is giving clear instructions because it prevents the communication inside the team and prevents the development of people. It means that there is a big chance the team will fail when you would not be there. And it is not about you, it is about your team. It is about completing the task together.


7 Responses to “Lessons from conductors – musings about modern managers”

  1. It’s not about you « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] the group. The leader and the group are both part of one concept. And that reminded of something I wrote a few weeks back: They way to create a shared story is not using your employees as instruments, but […]

  2. Yarkony Says:

    Very nice. Also, if you are seriuse about that you should go all the way- no more workers. Any worker is only in a transport term in his way to partnership. Here I speak of LEGAL partner e.g. Shares, profit sharing etc. Anything else is just not being honest to you ideas just shown up there

  3. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Yarkony,
    Thanks for the comment.
    I do not necessarily see that as a natural extension. Can you explain why you think that? I don’t think treating people as human beings and as partners must also be represented in the way financial profits are shared. Working together, respecting each other, helping people to grow, reaching flow, felling a sense of purpose and achievement – all of these are wonderful things that are right and true on their own without any regard to the financial outcomes.
    Would love to hear your thoughts about this issue.

  4. Re-recruiting employees « The Comparative Advantage Says:

    […] agree. By treating employees like partners and not like subordinates we let go of the fear and enjoy the benefits of trust and human […]

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