Musical leadership

Published by Tessa Marchington on

In my last post I talked about where Music in Offices (MIO) started and how we have grown over the last ten years. During this period I have had many conversations with clients who represent leading talent from the City’s HR and business community. I’ve heard an endless number of buzzwords for the challenges businesses face in engaging and developing their employees, but there is one view about leadership that has really struck a chord (excuse the pun!) with me and it’s what I’ve used to inspire our work at MIO.

All businesses, regardless of size or sector, are looking for ways of developing and nurturing strong leaders. Leadership has the biggest impact on an organisation’s success both in terms of decision-making but importantly, its culture. Strong leadership can give a business a life and a soul: it’s the difference between employees clocking in and working 9-5 and going the extra mile.

From what I have observed, leadership development programmes seem to follow a similar format, mainly focussing on competencies in some form. Be it Myers Briggs or the Iceberg Model, the results are often the same. They involve interrogating, analysing and creating action plans based on competencies. In doing so, we are looking for differences, strengths and weaknesses in individuals with the aim of either enhancing or improving them. Although this is successful to a point, in developing an individual, it does not focus on the reality that is borne out at work – we can only succeed if we work well with others. Our ability to work well as a team is often secondary to personal development.

I believe, in line with the old adage, that we are (significantly!) greater than the sum of our parts and this is the philosophy at the heart of our work. We need to understand how we work as a collective and how our leaders can harness the power of togetherness through inclusive leadership. Individual success and development is not enough on its own. You can be highly competent in your role, an expert in your field, but if you don’t have ‘soft skills’, the ability to work well with others, if you’re not able to motivate and inspire your team then you cannot be truly successful.

I believe there is a need for employee development programmes that focus solely on the power of the team and togetherness. In order to address this gap in the market, MIO has designed new music-led development workshops which centre on the analogy of music as a discipline and how we can take learnings and apply them to a business context – management through a musical lens if you like.

So what does this mean in practice?

Take an orchestra where it is the conductor who holds everyone’s concentration, who can change the course of a piece of music with the slightest of gestures. The conductor provides real-time feedback to the musicians. Even the most accomplished musicians can falter if the conductor doesn’t have the authority and authenticity in his interpretation to deliver a convincing performance with intent and integrity. In these workshops we explore concepts such as the power of gesture, the importance of presence in the leader and how the leader influences the players in front so that everybody plays their part with a sense of autonomy and trust.

And how does this extend to the business world?

We can learn a lot from the conductor in this analogy. Leadership is about behaving in a way that clearly demonstrates what you expect from your team and peers. It is about providing effective, actionable feedback and developing your colleagues so that they can grow, and  and help the business move forward as a cohesive whole. Great leaders, like great conductors, are respected and inspire change by being the change themselves. It is not simply holding a senior position which makes you a leader, it is the way in which you communicate and influence those around you.

Listening and leadership are symbiotic and closely related to both music and business. If a conductor doesn’t understand the intricacy of a piece of music and match it perfectly with the dynamic of its’ players then mistakes will be made. Some of the best leaders are those that are able to listen, understanding their audience and work with people’s strengths. In this way, a music ensemble, be it of a choir or an orchestra, is like a microcosm of a business. The difference being that the success or failure in a musical ensemble is more obvious because it is instantly audible.

Through our development workshops, we use music in this way as a means to challenge businesses to think differently. We recently delivered a workshop with the Lloyds Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) as part of their cultural change programme, which involved them learning and drumming different elements of a Samba rhythm, and then coming back together to deliver a final performance. The workshop encouraged different members of the SLT to work together to achieve a final performance which served as a powerful metaphor for the importance of trust and cohesiveness in teamwork.

Music may seem alien to some people in the workplace but in embracing it we are able to connect with each other at a different level – on a different plane.

MIO is aiming to shift the management paradigm by getting our leaders to really ‘think and listen out of the box.’

Ultimately businesses should be challenging themselves, having the confidence to move away from traditional methods of employee engagement and development.

Categories: Blog