Symphonic leadership

For an assignment in my last seminary class before I graduate, we had to discuss with other students what key functions are provided by effective leaders. One of my classmates cited a radio interview with Maestro Lorin Maazel, retired conductor of the N.Y. Philharmonic. Now 79 years old, he reflected upon his prestigious career and what it means to be an effective leader of musicians.

Lorin Maazel

I think that a symphony conductor is a great analogy for effective leadership. In keeping with that metaphor, I believe the functions of a leader to be:

1. Rebuking / Correcting

A conductor needs to have the gumption to tell others when they're out of tune. An effective leader can't be so concerned with being amicable that s/he can't put people in their place when they step out of line. While it might not make one popular, it does ensure that the group maintains a certain level of quality.

2. Exhorting / Encouraging

Likewise, a good conductor doesn't let good deeds go unnoticed. If someone has shown remarkable improvement in an orchestra, putting in those extra hours of practice or taking the time to fine-tune one's instrument, that will be self-evident amongst the group. A good conductor will say a few words of encouragement to publicly recognize the hard work of various individuals. So too an effective leader should praise his/her constituents, so all will strive for excellence.

3. Instruction / Guidance

A good conductor doesn't expect the musicians in his/her charge to become amazing overnight. S/he realizes that to hone the necessary talent takes a lifetime of dedication. Therefore, a good conductor / leader is willing to put in the time to teach others how to best use their natural gifts. Some people can master a variety of instruments, others might play only one or two, but do so exceptionally. Both generalists and specialists are needed.

4. Scouting / Recruiting

A good conductor realizes that there is inevitable turn-over in any orchestra. Musicians leave to join other ensembles, or occasionally strike off on their own to pursue a solo career. Long-standing members might pass away, and their vacancies need to be filled, lest the symphonic harmony become unbalanced. A good conductor is always on the lookout for new up-and-coming talent, that can be cultivated into the professional musicians of tomorrow. Likewise, a good leader is always thinking about empowering the next generation of spiritual trailblazers. There is no success without a successor.

X. First-Chair

Not sure where this fits in my bulleted list, so I'm just calling it out separately. In orchestras, there is the concept of "first-chair." This is the #1 person in a respective category or instrument. Orchestras sit in a half-circle when performing, which means that only one person per row can be seen directly by the audience. This honor is reserved for the first-chair. This person usually performs solos when called for in a particular song, and acts as a mentor.

Because this position of esteem is highly sought-after, orchestras often have in place a "challenge" system, by which someone in a lower rank can call-out the first-chair to a duel of sorts. After a play-off of a selection of music, and perhaps group consensus, the challenger can potentially claim first-chair. There is usually a time period that someone must wait after challenging unsuccessfully, and a duration of immunity if one has recently become first-chair. This allows for tempers to cool, and for motivation to build to work harder.

While an effective leader runs things according to a process, it is also important to afford opportunities for advancement based on merit, not necessarily seniority. If there is a situation in which there is a long time employee up for a promotion, but that person is less capable than someone who exhibits an obvious knack for performing that particular set of job duties, a leader must choose wisely. Ultimately, the decision has to be in the best interest of the group, not just to do right by a single individual.

As an aside: That's why non-denominational churches have dynamic leaders who seemingly come out of nowhere, whereas large mainline denominations do business-as-usual, and miss out on their prodigies. I am in no way saying that of myself, but would point to Steven Furtick as an example. He is in his 20's but leads a large congregation, as the senior pastor of Elevation Church.

Anyway, that summarizes my thoughts. I would love to hear any other analogies and metaphors that you think help to encapsulate what good leadership entails.