EVER BEEN TEMPTED to stand up in front of a chaotic boardroom — baton in hand — and demand order among dissonant staff members? If so, you have a head start on symphony conductor Roger Nierenberg‘s method of getting businesses on beat.
As creator of the Music Paradigm, a unique program that uses a symphony as a metaphor for any organization, Nierenberg advocates a harmonious approach to business leadership. His new book, “Maestro: A Surprising Story About Leading by Listening” ($19.95, Portfolio), explains how an effective leader encourages people to achieve their true potential through collaboration.
» EXPRESS: How is a symphony an apt metaphor for an organization or company?
» NIERENBERG: Things happen in an orchestra very quickly. In most organizations, the speed by which behavior turns into results is very slow. An orchestra is a fantastic laboratory for modeling one behavior after another and seeing that behaviors do have these big impacts. It’s very hard to dispute, because it’s not theoretical — it’s very tangible.
» EXPRESS: In the Music Paradigm sessions, you invite business execs to sit in on an orchestra rehearsal. What lessons do they learn?
» NIERENBERG: You see very clearly the relationship between a leader and the workforce. There are conductors who believe that by looking after every detail, your people are going to execute better, by tracking the way your directions are carried out. When I model that kind of conducting behavior, then give musicians the opportunity to voice what’s going on, you hear how inhibited and undervalued it makes them feel. They feel their professionalism is not being appreciated; the net effect is for them to turn off from the leadership. That happens in all kinds of organizations.
» EXPRESS: Why is it a bad idea for leaders to micromanage?
» NIERENBERG: In real life, it’s sometimes hard to see. But with the orchestra, it’s actually crystal clear in the sound, which becomes mechanical, obedient — devoid of life, imagination and creativity. The musicians then are just doing what they’re asked to do, but they’re not adding all the talent they have to offer.
» EXPRESS: What other lessons can business professionals learn from a symphony?
» NIERENBERG: Let’s say you have an organization where there are certain processes and standards that need to be adhered to, but different locations have their own versions. From all offices, they’re carrying out the function perfectly; what they don’t understand is the cumulative effect is disabling for the organization. In an orchestra, if you allowed different parts to have slightly different standards of pitch, each individual section sounds fine on their own. But altogether it sounds like a high school orchestra. The problem is not at the individual desk or chair, but this organization-wide adherence to standards is the thing the customer is going to experience. It’s a very powerful and palpable illustration.
» EXPRESS: Why do people have such a hard time listening to each other?
» NIERENBERG: Listening is a profound skill. Musicians are taught from very early to listen to the combined sound with somebody else, and to start adjusting in such a way that when the two sounds are together they’re in tune and they match. Most people don’t understand that in a discussion, that same kind of adjusting and valuing the combined effect of the communication is actually more important than just expressing your ideas.
» EXPRESS: How is “learning by listening” crucial to business success?
» NIERENBERG: It’s by listening that you discover exactly where your people’s gaps are, and you can then fill them in. It’s the leader’s job to narrow that gap.
Written by Express contributor Katie Knorovsky
Photo courtesy The Penguin Group