Recently I went to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall.  Having spent many evenings at the RFH over my 25 years in London I realised on entering the auditorium that all my previous visits had only involved the bar or restaurant – clearly I’m not as highbrow as I thought.

The concert was by Chineke! a black and ethnic minority orchestra who play both traditional classical and lesser known works.  We were there because we distantly knew one of the cellists. 

The parallel between the role of the conductor, a very sprightly and impressive Kevin John Edusei, and that of leaders has been drawn before, many times.  What particularly caught my attention though was the way in which he communicated with his team, the musicians.  With subtlety.  This was communication as a minimalist form; highly effective underplaying.

An arching of the eyebrow here, a barely discernible nod there, a flick of the finger, a sway of the head.  When a team of people know their roles, understand how they interplay with each other, the relationships between their work, and the overall purpose, the leader can be subtle, light, modest in their direction and communication.  Minimalist.

The conductor does not play an instrument, he or she plays the orchestra.  Their role is distinct and different.  They don’t jump onto the second violin if that player is not getting it quite right; they don’t grab the timpani sticks and start banging away on the kettle drums if the timing if off. Their role is distinct and different. 

So as a leader you may want to think about how do you use subtlety and minimalism to convey your intentions, gently nudging, patting, prodding with a look, a comment and a gesture?  Or as with me have you a tendency to be quick to jump in, take over, over-communicate and interrupt the flow? 

And how distinct and different is your role?  In my own experience my desire to be part of the orchestra has definitely got in the way of my role as conductor; blurring the lines and causing confusion at best and resentment at worst. Are you leading or are you also playing?  If you’re playing your own instrument how can you be sending out subtle communication messages to the other players?

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