Leading Like A Music Band or Orchestra

Rhythm in the dictionary sense is defined as movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions. Typically, when I think about rhythm in its most practical sense, I think about dancing, or a band and this might be as a result as my sheer passion for music and dancing as fun and highly sophisticated arts. But, what you typically have is a set of rules or standards that define harmony and then every element of its whole (the body, or the instruments) stay within these rules or standards, and get creative about executing a masterpiece that is a pleasure to watch or listen to. Everyone has their tastes and preferences, but at the end of the day, everyone appreciates a good dance or musical performance.

These days, I tend to think of leading a team, organization or group as leading a music band. In a company for instance, you have the core values, culture and vision. Those come together to form what I think of as the rules and standards that define harmony within that company. What a leader is in this situation, regardless of their place within the company, is someone (anyone) who orchestrates the working elements (people or departments) of that band to play in harmony. Getting elements to play in harmony involves letting everyone know and be comfortable with the dynamics of the instrument they play, and in turn contribute to making the overall music beautiful and in rhythm. This means the leader needs to have a good understanding of all the instruments, their strengths, weaknesses and steer performance in the direction of the rules and standards that define harmony.

When you ask people, “What defines good music?” You hear a slew of various factors that they consider when they think about what constitutes music that is pleasurable to them. The first thing a team, organization or group needs to know is which cohort of tastes they are catering to. The leaders above any other person need to know what it is and be passionate about it, then help others learn about it and develop a burning passion for it as well. In a company, your cohort of tastes (or audience) are your customers or clients and investors (in the right situation). Who consumes the products or services you offer and exactly what type of rhythm is pleasurable to them? The leader needs to know what the definition of good music is to the company’s audience, set the rhythm in line with that and inspire everyone to play their instruments in accordance.

When thinking about the composition of a band, you think about the different types of musical instruments. We have the Strings, Wind, Brass and Percussion. Under these, there are different subset of instruments that have different frequencies, intensity, volume and ‘sound’ if you will. All of these different instruments inspire different thoughts and emotions with a band’s target audience. The leader needs to know what instruments need to be played, how loud or prominent, and which takes the lead in order to play good music for their audience. Some bands are big on their bass guitarists, because their audience likes a predominant bass guitar. Some on their saxophonists, because their audience is really into that. Some bands have a predominant bass guitar, but then burst into mean saxophone, drum and piano solos at the right time such that the audience goes ‘wild’. The leader needs to know this and orchestrate all of it in the best interest of the audience (so they stay in business,) and the band members too (so they stay fulfilled doing what they do.) I think of the composition as the people, and the roles they play within the company; the human resources. People with complementary roles, working towards similar objectives of course become the department.

When hiring, the band should hire for people who not only play their instruments really well and in rhythm, but have a good understanding and passion for the type of music that caters to your audience. For instance, hiring a ‘cream of the crop’ award winning drum soloist on a band that plays for an audience that likes the drums quiet in the background could be perceived as a GREAT addition. But soon enough, the drummer might want to play louder or take the spotlight on occasions. As a result, you have a highly talented, ‘cream of the crop’ drummer who is frustrated and unfulfilled because they don’t take the spotlight the way they did when they were a soloist, or when they worked with a band whose audience loved a loud and tactful drum solo. Soon enough, they’ll go out of rhythm and cost the band one too many mediocre shows. As difficult as it may sound, an average drummer might have performed better music on this band than the the ‘cream of the crop’ drummer, because the audience likes a quiet drummer in the background. Knowing the dynamics of every instrument on the band and hiring as appropriate pays huge dividends. I think of hiring band members as building the team and instruments as skills or competencies.

This raises another great factor. As an assigned leader (by virtue of position), you need to know who the acquired leaders (by virtue of influence) within your band are, cozy up to them really quickly and make sure they understand what defines the rhythm and good music to the audience you are performing for. Acquired leaders crop up within a band (and company) naturally and it is every leader’s responsibility to look out for them as they crop up, nurture them for greater responsibility and ensure they are in rhythm to make good music.

In essence, when you think about it, a company could be likened to a music band, an instrument likened to skills or competencies needed to execute and the instrumentalists likened to team members or employees. The audience being the customers, clients or investors that the company caters to. A leader in this respect is anyone within or at the forefront of the organization that enables another, or group of others play their instruments in rhythm with the desired music and progressively get better at playing their instruments, both for their own good, and for that of the company. Better instrumentalists means more creative and innovative music that keeps the band successful and relevant, usually. Shows can be likened to products, features, projects, marketing campaigns or financial targets. In order for everyone to be in rhythm, they need to know and be comfortable with their instruments, the rhythm, and the role they play at the show. They need to know when to go low or loud, how often to, if and when to kick into a solo, for how long and how ambitious.

If you are a leader, or are aspiring to be a leader, take a moment to think about leading a team, group, organization etc. like leading a music band. It could make absolute sense and help you ‘think’ about it better, then in turn, become a better leader. Or, it could end up being absolute bullshit from your vantage point. Either ways, a little thinking doesn’t hurt. As an instrumentalist, you can only be a successful leader if you start understanding the rhythm in greater detail, all the instruments, and how to orchestrate the instrumentalists to make better music that is relevant to your audience. At the point where you as a leader or instrumentalist starts playing out of rhythm, or are not contributing to the overall beauty of the music as the band matures, then you stand a risk of making the band loose audience. A lot can be said about leaders paying attention and identifying out of rhythm band members before things get messy. This is not the point of my thoughts at the moment though. I used band mostly in this article, but a company would mostly be an orchestra since they could have multiple bands within and they typically play longer shows.

Organization like an Orchestra

These are all personal thoughts and opinions. Now you know why high performers are called rockstars in most organizations ;). Thoughts? Suggestions? Drop a comment.

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