The only person on stage who doesn't make a sound

By Darya Rusanova on 14. November 2018

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An arm sweeps dramatically through the air. The strings increase in speed. A subtle point of the left hand index finger and the percussions become quieter. A flick of the baton and the brass takes centre stage. The body leans in, leans back. Sways. And the music flows. Perfectly coordinated and beautifully expressed. All in response to this mysterious podium dance.

No orchestra is complete without a conductor. They set the tempo. Control it. Signify the start of a new bar. And most importantly, keep an ensemble of sometimes over one hundred highly-talented individuals together. Harmoniously at that.

Not too dissimilar to the job of the Chairman one might say. Well, without the huge numbers of course. Or you’d need a pretty big board table.

Like the greatest conductors - the Furtwänglers, Bernsteins or Dudamels, the greatest Chairs create the perfect conditions that allow other people to shine. They speak little, taking up no more than 10% of the board room airtime. They point their baton in the right conversational direction. And they focus on getting the best show from their directors.

it’s all about navigation, not participation

The Chairman can’t arrive onstage and try to play every instrument themselves. That’s not their job. It just pushes the orchestra off key and limits opportunities for collective exploration. Instead of thinking “what’s the best solution for a problem?”, it needs to be more “what’s the best way to organise a discussion of the problem?”. They need to be the rhythm giver. Not maker.

According to INSTEAD’s ‘Leading From The Chair’ study on board effectiveness through strong leadership, the live recital is actually only a small part of the role. What goes on backstage is what will truly make or break a performance.

Most of a conductor’s work takes place before they ever even meet up with an orchestra. Studying, exploring and analysing the music. Seeking to understand the composer's vision. Could you imagine a Chairman rocking up to the board meeting without a strategic agenda or carefully planned briefing pack? Exactly. The homework is just as crucial. As are the board dynamics.

In our last blog, we delved into the importance of open conversation and collaboration between members. If the instrumentals aren’t in synch, it’s up to the Chairman to shake things up. To listen out for tuning issues and give everyone their moment in the spotlight. This cuts out the noise, and allows for melodic decision-making.

It’s up to the Chairman to bring out the best in the directors. To not get things done quickly, but get them done properly. To create a stage that enables free flowing, dynamic discussions. To say no when it needs to be said. To transform individual musicians with incredible talents, into a world-class orchestra with a collective focus. To be a baton-wielding maestro.

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