An innovative experiential leadership session: The Music Paradigm

Maestro - Music ParadigmAt the recent Medical Group Management Association PEER Conference, I had the good fortune to attend a fascinating opening session created by Roger Nierenberg of The Music Paradigm. Roger, Music Director of the Stamford Symphony Orchestra and a guest conductor around the world, uses a semi-impromptu exploration of the work of an orchestral conductor to illustrate a host of lessons about leadership.

When we entered the large performance room, we found, not the traditional orchestral layout, but clumps of professional orchestra players scattered amongst our seats. During the session we sat “inside” the orchestra, experiencing Roger and the other musicians as the orchestra did, rather than as audience members.

Roger started by telling us that many of the professional musicians present had not worked with him before that morning and that the session was not scripted, and he asked players and audience to be honest with their comments and responses.

Roger then conducted a ten-minute piece of orchestral music that was to be our musical touchstone for the session. During the remainder of the session, various excerpts from this piece were repeated, preceded with Roger’s instructions and followed by solicited observations from audience & orchestra members and Roger’s commentary.

Random audience members and musicians were asked for their honest responses and observations after each musical experiment; the session was in no way canned, and, being experiential, a written account obviously cannot do it justice. However, I’m sharing my notes in order to give a sense of the powerful learning a session like this can provide. I’ve italicized Roger’s words:

Roger compared his role as an orchestra conductor to the paradigm of leadership, to the work of leading change.

He began by instructing his orchestra I want this to be big & wonderful, and then proceeded to conduct “flat”, illustrating the problems that arise when leaders say one thing and do another.

Then Roger announced he would be very engaged, and over-directed a soloist. Afterward, the soloist described herself as “stifled”. Soloists, Roger told us, like to take control during solos and not have the conductor in their face—they will shut out conductors who over-direct. The parallel to micromanaging staff was obvious.

It’s such an easy thing for an orchestra to hate a conductor.

Roger asked Why a conductor at all? He demonstrated by not conducting a selection that included abrupt, unrehearsed change. The orchestra did a magnificent job, but sounded ragged. Egos won’t help. The lesson: good leadership requires specific direction at the right time, so everyone can execute together. A leader becomes more critically important the more change there is. The soloist who had to start illustrated another lesson—she thanked the rest of the orchestra for supporting her.

The baton: The tools of leadership are pretty simple.

Roger shared …the conductor’s nightmare: I’ll commit and nobody plays.

He demonstrated the following concepts:

Don’t get out too far in front of the group.
The perils of an unclear signal.
I’ll show you the way, but you’ll go there.

Conductors listen for stuff going wrong and fix it. And they also listen for the things that people are doing right. Take what the orchestra gives you and work with it. Listen for what could be.

Roger illustrated having the first violinist as right-hand man when you’re not around.

It’s hard to separate out ego needs. Make it clear to players how they work together.

Shared leadership: Sometimes an instrument leads.

If they trusted me today, that was because of what I did. You can’t ask for trust, you can earn it.

There are a lot of conductors who specialize in passion. This nauseates the orchestra.

An orchestra notices that conductor knows the score by heart.

On hearing something wrong during playing: Get together and check that note. Notice, I didn’t say who was right.

They feel more about your enthusiasm for their playing than my giving them a compliment.

conductingMusicians are trained to work together; physicians are trained as soloists.

If you can see the big picture, the more you can help orchestra members see it.

Roger’s last comment particularly resonated with me, for the times when I’m facilitating group process at a conference: My connection with orchestra members is a conduit for them to connect with each other.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Music Paradigm, finding it an effective way to explore many aspects of functional & dysfunctional leadership via an audience’s experience of the ways a conductor might lead an orchestra. If you’re looking for a unique and effective way to demonstrate multiple facets of leadership and guiding principles to your organization, check it out! And, if you have the opportunity to attend a Music Paradigm session, don’t miss it!

Photo attributions: The Music Paradigm

The most powerful tool for improving your personal work environment

improving your personal work environment

Have you ever thought about improving your personal work environment?

Your web browser has eight windows open, and each window sports at least half a dozen tabs. Your monitor is festooned with Post-it® notes. Hundreds of handwritten reminders, business cards, file folders, magazines with slips of paper peaking out, and unread articles litter your office desk.

Are you, perhaps, feeling a little overwhelmed by your personal work environment? If so, and this is a habitual state rather than an occasional, acceptable occurrence, read on!

Here is what I have found to be the most powerful tool that will help to restore your sanity when workspace chaos has expanded beyond your comfort zone. (You do have a comfort zone, I hope?)

Losing control

Let’s start with a key question. Why is your personal working environment habitually and unacceptably out of control?

Answer: Because it’s reflecting a way of working that isn’t working for you.

So making changes in your physical environment, by buying twenty plastic filing trays, dumping sixteen piles of paper into file cabinets, switching to an iPad, or even setting fire to your office is not going to solve your long term problem.

What you need to do is change the way you work. And change, as we all know, is hard.

Luckily, a lot of smart people have spent a lot of time thinking (and written a lot of books) about how to make changes in how you work. I’ve worked for myself for the last 27 years, read many of these books and tried their techniques, usually with limited success.

Getting Things Done

Five years ago I read David Allen’s Getting Things Done (known as GTD by devotees). Published in 2001, it’s still Amazon’s best selling book in the categories of Time Management, Health & Stress, and Self-Esteem. This doesn’t surprise me, as the book is brilliant. Unlike other productivity methodologies, it doesn’t prescribe a complete system for organizing your life. Instead, David explains clearly:

  • The essential workflow processes you need to follow to clear and organize your work-life; and
  • What you need to understand in order to choose tools and procedures that work for you.

Implementing GTD does not involve throwing out or changing all the ways you work now. Rather, Allen’s approach gives you both a powerful lens to see what is functional in your work-life, and a comprehensive framework for making improvements.

Creating GTD that works for you

Each person’s implementation of GTD is unique. One person may use file trays and 3 x 5 cards to capture “stuff”, another, GTD software running on a personal computer or mobile device. If email messages are piling up in your inbox, there are GTD approaches to keeping your head above water. Ultimately, you’re responsible for doing the work you need to do. GTD just provides a practical way to create the system that works best for you.

I’m not going to delve more into GTD here. There are plenty of resources on the web, including David Allen’s website and this introductory article from 43folders. But I suggest that, to start, you simply buy the book. It may turn out to be the best way of improving your personal work environment.

Am I 100% successful at implementing GTD in my work-life? No. Sometimes I find it difficult to maintain the necessary discipline. I also have some reservations about David Allen’s approach to reviews. But I have integrated GTD’s key features into how I work, and have obtained a significant increase in productivity. More importantly, I understand why my work environment can deteriorate and what to do if it does. Possessing this understanding is empowering for me.

I hope it is for you, too.

Do you use Getting Things Done? What’s been your experience? Or do you prefer another methodology to organize your personal work environment?

Image attribution: Flickr user harryharris