I can't help it. I'm drawn to great leaders and passionately-aligned teams of people like a magnet and, lucky for me, I find them frequently in my life experience and, often, in places you'd least expect.
Last week, while speaking on personal leadership for the Western Michigan Dental Society, I was able to steal a couple of extra days to reconnect with my childhood friend, Deb Berecz. In advance of my visit, she bought tickets for us to two local events: 1) the Princess Di exhibit and 2) the Grand Rapids Symphony performing the music of John Williams.
More on my observations from the Princess Di exhibit in an upcoming MM Stretch....
But my experience at the symphony is the crux of today's story:
I have a fairly strong relationship with classical music and the world of orchestras. My niece, Carrie, grew up with us and played the cello for many years in the local youth orchestra. This experience of lessons, daily practice, tryouts, rehearsals, and orchestra competitions created a great personal expansion for my otherwise testosterone-driven world of boys, baseball, and motorcross. She often begged to go to see the San Diego or LA philharmonic orchestras perform because that's where her orchestra buddies were going and of course, we took her. I lost count of how many performances I sat through - most of them very well done but many of them were (dare I say it?) a little stiff and well, boring.
There were of course huge exceptions such as seeing YoYo Ma at the Hollywood Bowl. Talk about passion and connectedness with your audience! "Wow!" was the only word we could utter for about an hour after leaving that performance. But all in all, symphonies usually leave me wishing for more action, interaction, and personal connection to the music, musicians, composers, and my fellow humans with whom I'm sharing this common experience.
Not so for the small but powerful Grand Rapids Symphony. The music of John Williams is, of course, wonderful in itself: The Olympic Theme, Jaws, Schindler's List, The Cowboys, E.T., Harry Potter, Superman, and Star Wars. When an enormous and menacing Darth Vader wheezed his way over to us upon our arrival into the hall, it was our first clue the night was going to be a little different and quite possibly more fun than expected. And we were not disappointed.
Lead by Guest Conductor, Michael Krajewski, the evening unfolded for me as a powerful testament to great leadership, intentional connectedness, and joyful alignment of all players involved. As is often the case, every ethnicity, age, and gender was represented in the orchestra. The eclectic group of individual musicians was skillfully led by the conductor who delighted us in several brilliant ways: Before each piece he turned to the audience, smiled a huge smile and let his attention "land" with us for a moment. He then shared a clever, humorous or interesting story about the piece we were about to hear, sometimes drawing our attention to a particularly interesting instrument or a piece of John Williams trivia related to the music (for example, the NBC Nightly News theme is an excerpt from a larger John Williams piece they would play for us.) He then turned that same smile and fierce attention onto his orchestra and proceeded to conduct them with great passion, flamboyant movements, and sheer joy! I was particularly moved when he would point his baton directly at a section or an individual who had performed extremely well or been an integral part of the piece after it was over, holding the point of that baton on them long enough for everyone in the room to feel his appreciation for their contribution. And he was not the only one on stage thoroughly engaged and deeply enjoying themselves. Several times I noticed musicians smiling at each other and encouraging each other during their performance.
I was completely mesmerized and utterly drawn in. The evening seemed to fly by and I found myself not wanting it to end.
So what's in this for us? Here what I think:
Great leaders model the behavior they want. If you want your patients, clients, participants, family, or co-workers to participate fully with you in the accomplishment of your vision, you must lead them with the same joy, enthusiasm, focus, and attention you wish to see from them.
Great leaders make everyone feel important. Whether it was me sitting in the 7th row or the first chair clarinet player in the orchestra, Mr. Krajewski made us feel important to the event that night and connected with it. He did that by his sheer focus, his apparent joy of the work, and his ability to make a complicated piece of music seem effortless and seamless. He did not shy from the emotion in each piece and we were drawn in with him.
Great leaders share the credit. He gave constant praise in many, many ways - eventually to almost everyone in the orchestra - and to the audience.
Great leaders work hard toward a high bar of excellence but never take any of it too seriously... most especially themselves. The most adorable thing all evening (and the thing that brought the house down!) was when Darth Vader himself unexpectedly and majestically stormed on stage during the playing of the Darth Vader March and "took over" the podium, continuing to conduct the orchestra with his light saber, none-the-less! Mr. Krajewski, in not-so-typical conductor behavior, played along by yielding to his authority and the whimsicalness of the moment.
This week, model what you want, make others feel important by bringing great focus to every conversation, share the credit, work hard toward nothing less than excellence, and... oh, go on... use your light saber and HAVE SOME FUN!
A side note: Writing this MM Stretch reminded me of an article I wrote for Dental Economics years ago about another orchestra leadership experience: The Song of Leadership. I hope you enjoy it.