Musical conductors and surgeons share leadership skills

Eye SurgeryThe leadership skills required of musical conductors and surgeons are highly situational and yet applicable to many other leadership roles

This idea is not particularly novel, although I have not come across it in the introductory leadership textbooks prepared for business executives. The closest is an infrequent reference to improvisation, or creating within accepted principles or rules.

Distributed leadership

LWD subscribers may have noticed recent posts mentioning musical conductors. I also interviewed the promising young conductor Duncan Ward a few years ago.

Overall, the impression I received of musical leadership was of a form of distributed leadership. The conductor symbolizes and ‘orchestrates’ the performance, and coordinates its execution, assisted by the contributions of the leaders of various musical sub-groups within the whole.

The surgeon

More recently I had direct experience of a highly skilled surgeon at work. My contribution to the performance was as his patient, but was able to witness the procedure to some degree because of the absence of a general anaesthetic.

Distributed leadership as a non-zero sum game

The surgeon was clearly the leader of a team. However, again there were sub-groupings each with a formal leader. Distributed leadership again. This not the simple splitting up of the tasks as was made famous by Adam Smith’s distribution of labour or Henry Ford’s efficiency concept of a production line. Power is not asserted top-down as in a zero-sum game. The conductor or surgeon creates within constraints imposed by the situation and its interpretation. The other lead players and ‘team members’ are not de-skilled (as they are in the classical model of a modernist business production line) but enabled. In other words, it becomes a non-zero sum game.

Footnote

A similar metaphor was used by footballer Robin van Persie in an interview. he talks of football training as being in an orchestra with the coach as conductor.

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One Response to Musical conductors and surgeons share leadership skills

  1. […] Musical conductors and surgeons share leadership skills […]

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