Why You Should Conduct Your People, Not Manage


I’m asked quite frequently how I moved from being a music director into business operations. While there were many variables that influenced this decision, the general answer is they are the same.

Take a moment and think about the role of a symphony conductor. Do you have it pictured in your mind? The conductor stands as a central hub, visible to all, conveying the musical interpretation of the performance. While the audience is never privy, they are also coaching the group through subtle gestures the entire time.

The role of the symphony conductor is the same skill set as managing an organization.


#1: The Delegation of Duties

Each section of the symphony has a unique role in the piece of music. They are both independent and co-dependent of the other instrument groups. To coach the independent side, section leaders are assigned based on performance skills as well as leadership skills. This is where the 1st chair and 2nd chair come from. These leaders are responsible for coaching the technical skills in their group. While the conductor is responsible for the visionary end result, these section leaders are responsible for coaching the team how to achieve the result.

The strategic division of responsibilities leaves little ambiguity to the direction and responsibility of every individual.


#2: A Culture of Respect

While the section leaders are picked for their musical expertise and leadership, all parties in the group are talented performers. With this, there is a culture of openness. If another musician has a thought or suggestion to coach the team, they are received with equal respect to the section leader. This respect is key for the group to work cohesively as one instrument. The same culture extends to the conductor. Musicians will often raise their hand during full rehearsal to offer a suggestion.

The members of the symphony are all invested in the success of the group. They recognize the importance of their contributions individually and for the group as a whole. Musicians would think it is absolutely mad to allow a teammate to fail quietly in order to make them seem better….because they see that one person can ruin the entire performance.


#3: The Expectation to Strive to Do Better

While most people understand the need to practice in learning an instrument, they often fail to see this same need in their professional lives. Musicians have three levels of preparation before a performance. They have independent practice to the learn the score (notes and rhythm); they have section rehearsals with their instrument group and their leader to work on blend, styling, and new techniques needed for the desired sound; and full symphony rehearsal for the direction, musical interpretation, and blend of the other instruments. It is in this full rehearsal that the conductor will discuss critical moments and blends with another instrument groups. Things will be said like, “violins, mark your score on page 4, measure 122 that you need to cleanly pass the melody to the cellos. This needs to be a clean exchange so when they take over, you back off your dynamic.”

The conductor strategizes the entire experience. With each week of rotating these three levels of practice, the score becomes more and more refined until the final performance.


#4: Individual Responsibility

Musicians each have an intense sense of responsibility for the end result. This is largely due to the equal ability to contribute to all stages of the process. It is also due to the intense practice and strategy. No one can really walk away from a performance saying, “my section leader just didn’t cut it for us to be great” because that is only a portion of the coaching provided. At the end of the performance, every individual accepts both the successes and failures through the night.


Do You See the Correlations?

Business operations and management should be like a symphony. It should have defined roles while also maintaining a sense of personal responsibility to the end result. Professionals who are coachable should be hired for their expertise and drive to be better. If your organization consists of such people, coaching becomes natural and a communal effort. Each stage of the preparation should be specific and structured. The end result should be clear with a strategy in place.

With all of the conversation lately about sales and marketing alignment, I challenge companies to truly align their organization more than once a year. Just like the conductor identifies and practices key collaborative points in the score, so must your professional organization.

I can give a simple example of this: I went for an appointment for my bridesmaid dress to be hemmed. During the appointment, the seamstress kept receiving calls. The receptionist did not have visibility on the schedule for alterations and, therefore, didn’t know when to transfer a call or when to take a message. The result??? Both the in-person customer is interrupted and delayed, and the caller gets a bad sense from the beginning about the company (assuming they even stay on the line). This small misalignment creates a rather large impact on the buyer experience…your organization’s public performance.

So there you have it…..Do you hire coachable people? Do you have a system for coaching in place? Do you identify key points of collaboration? Do you work with your organization as a whole towards a single goal?


If you don’t have these things, it is time to take some notes from a symphony conductor.


Check out more on how to build a coaching culture in your sales organization from Keenan’s Inbound17 Keynote.


Braedi Leigh