|Posted by tiffanychang on June 25, 2020 at 2:20 PM|
Since I began studying conducting as an undergraduate, I’ve been obsessed with leadership. I feel like I am programmed as a human being to be a leader – I always felt like leadership tasks were easy. I didn’t need to think very much about how to design a journey that would get us from point A to B, while keeping in mind that there is C, D, etc, all the way to Z. It seemed natural for me to consider the holistic experience and to take care of the details that made the journey meaningful every step of the way. Lesson planning was also always easy for me. I was able to think empathetically toward my students, and I’ve noticed that that ability is what made it so easy and made me effective as a teacher (and I’d like to argue as a conductor). It’s so important that people feel like a leader understands and can relate to them.
As I organically slipped into leadership roles, I realized that it was not so for some individuals – and that they had to work hard at it. I started wondering why it all came to me so naturally. I think I’m still trying to figure it out, but I count myself lucky that I have these innate qualities. Perhaps it is because I have it, I feel even more curious about what is it that makes leadership work.
My journey to discovering leadership has been actually defined by those who write and speak about business leadership—particularly the work of Simon Sinek. I have been a huge and loyal fan for years. His profound ideas speak to me in such a deep way, and I continue to be amazed at how these leadership models initially meant for business leaders fit extremely well to my (actually anyone’s) work as a leader in front of musicians.
Simon Sinek’s first book Start with Why explores how it is important to understand an organization’s “why.” What idea inspires you to do the work that you do and gives you purpose? He advocates for starting with a strong “why” and allowing it to set the tone for an organization’s work. It creates a deep sense of community (a “tribe”) where everyone shares the same values, promoting comradery and loyalty to each other (instead of rivalry and competition)—making the company stronger and more successful. It was also interesting for me to consider that not everyone will share your “why,” and so it is crucial to an organization’s development to understand that not everyone is a good fit for you. That concept alone has changed my world in considering 1) how I want to design my ensemble's culture, 2) evaluating the organizations that I work with, and 3) why I have continued or discontinued my work with them.
Simon also speaks much about how important it is for a leader to create an environment where everyone feels safe to take risks so that their best work emerges. We can all think of conductors or teachers whose styles do not naturally promote active risk-taking. I think the result is uninspired, “careful” music-making. I’ve realized that that is key to empowering an orchestra to own the music. Every single musician should feel important, fulfilled, and full contributors to the music. In fact, when the leader is able to let go, that's when things start to get interesting.
Simon's second book Leaders Eat Last and his most recent The Infinite Game are also incredibly relevant, and I highly recommend them. It is amazing that everything Simon says ends up being goals I have for orchestras I work with. These thoughts have been percolating for years, and it’s still foggy at times. I look forward to the day that I can articulate effectively how Simon’s work is absolutely relevant for leadership in the arts. For the moment, I’m grateful that Simon inspires me to be a leader every single day.