How leaders achieve harmony in business

harmony in business

I recently saw a TED talk that fascinated me, Itay Talgam’s much-watched “Lead Like the Great Conductors”.1 During his talk, Talgam, a conductor and business consultant, expertly weaves the conductor-orchestra metaphor through a discussion of leadership as could be applied to any team. As a former orchestra flutist, what really struck me about this talk was that it’s a fantastic illustration of one of the main tenets of Business Chemistry, that each of us is a unique combination of all four types, and it’s our ability to flex between these styles that may be our greatest strength as leaders. Indeed, research shows that great leaders use a variety of styles, depending on the situation, to get results.2

Consider the responsibilities of a conductor: define the tone and set the tempo, unify 100 independent musicians while bringing out the best in each performer, provide real-time performance feedback, and create an experience for the audience. How do conductors achieve all this…without a saying a word? Talgam guides us through a tour of the leadership styles of some of the world’s greatest conductors, and explores the possible pitfalls of leaning too heavily on one style.

Talgam starts with Carlos Kleiber, which I’ll get to in a minute. He then moves on to Riccardo Muti (Conductor 2) known for his fiery, demanding style and dramatic movements. Muti is a much accomplished maestro, but seems to depend too much on his Driver style, acting with an authoritative sharpness and a “do what I say” tone that may dampen the development of his musicians. He appears to treat them as chess pieces to be moved across the board as he sees fit to accomplish the master plan. An effort to collaborate with his skilled players, getting them on-board with this plan, might have garnered him more support and resulted in a longer tenure with La Scala.

Richard Strauss (Conductor 3) is the opposite of Muti in outward expression–he is calm and composed– but his overall agenda is quite similar. His “Ten Commandments for Conductors” suggests that rules are made for a reason and allowing a musician her own interpretation of the music is not one of them. Seemingly with nothing but the score in his mind, he appears to rely too heavily on his Guardian tendencies, focusing only on precision and details, with no allowance for nuances of musical expression. For team members, the experience seems flat. Perhaps allowing for individual accents and inviting a bit of exploration and creativity in the players’ approach would have afforded him more team engagement.

Herbert von Karajan’s (Conductor 4) gestures are flowing, his eyes are closed, he’s trusting and helpful, and he gives space for the players to listen to one another. Maybe too much space. Von Karajan’s Integrator-like, empowering style of inviting soloists to ‘start when you can’t stand it anymore’ may actually have the opposite effect. It’s hard to be an effective team when a leader doesn’t provide clear expectations. This team might work more collaboratively as a result, out of necessity more than anything, but every team benefits from a leader who can both inspire and guide towards a shared, common goal.

Now, let’s revisit Conductor 1, Carlos Kleiber, who is Talgam’s example of a great leader. Kleiber has found a way to draw upon the strengths of each of his Business Chemistry styles to lead with a balance of authority while instilling a sense of teamwork. He executes a detailed plan while still respecting creativity and interpretation. A close colleague once stated that if Kleiber “wasn’t in complete control, that was the last you saw of him”3. Although this Driver-like authority might have led to him being known as a ‘dictator through and through’…he was also ‘very, very supportive and human with it’. His Integrator side invites players to be “partners”, as Talgam puts it, building the “rollercoaster” as a team and taking the ride together.

Kleiber dialed up his inner Guardian with his meticulous approach as “he worked more fastidiously and more intensely when he did conduct than any other musician, studying the manuscript, where possible, of every piece he played, and listening to every performance he could get his hands on.” And it’s this deep study that may have given him the confidence and willingness to take risks, opening the door to Pioneer-like tendencies, providing space for players to add their own layers of interpretation. Talgam’s video clip shows his optimistic energy, giving a small glimpse of “one of the funniest, most communicative musicians who ever lived.” Kleiber seems to have grasped the power behind flexing his style to get results. His ability to draw upon his own unique mix of traits to bring a more balanced approach to leadership is what made him a truly great conductor. If he had relied too heavily on just one type, as we saw in the previous examples, he would have been a less effective leader.

Whether you love symphonies or not, we could all learn a thing or two from this conductor, who was voted “the greatest of all time”1 by his peers. Kleiber found a way to balance his visionary optimism, authoritative nature, partnership mentality, and thorough approach. Through this, he provided an engaging experience for each member of his orchestra while producing memorable results for his audience. He epitomizes a great leader that understands when and how to flex his style, accelerating each team member’s contributions to achieve perfect harmony. For another take on Business Chemistry and achieving harmony in business, watch our video.

What might you start doing today to bring a more balanced approach to your leadership style?


Grace Lee
As the Business Chemistry Lead for the LCC, Grace is responsible for the strategy and overall operations of Business Chemistry. She leads Business Chemistry labs with client leaders to help them understand how to better relate to others and improve alignment and effectiveness in their teams.

1 Talgam, I. (2009, July). Itay Talgam: Lead like the great conductors. [Video file]. Retrieved from ted.com
2 Goleman, D. “Leadership That Gets Results.” Harvard Business Review. March-April 2000: 78-90. Print.
3 Service, T. “Carlos Kleiber: the myth revealed.” the guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 8 March, 2012. Web. 29 February, 2016.

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3 thoughts on “How leaders achieve harmony in business

  1. Lee, here is what I found the most interesting the conductor was known for his, ” deep study that may have given him the confidence and willingness to take risks, opening the door to Pioneer-like tendencies, providing space for players to add their own layers of interpretation.” John Maxwell’s 21 Laws states in Law #1 The Law of the Lid that you cannot lead any higher than you are as a leader so, if for example your leadership is a 5 (on a scale 1-10) you can only bring your team to a 4. Your example clearly show the law into affect:) Great thought thanks for sharing!

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