You Can’t Mandate Creativity – Leadership Lessons from the Maestro

You can force compliance with your directions, you can require obedience, but you can’t mandate enthusiasm, creativity, fresh thinking, or inspiration.

These are the words of the maestro, the “fictional leader” in the book Maestro: A Surprising Story About Leading by Listening by Roger Nierenberg.

Bob Morris strongly encouraged me to tackle this book (it is my selection for the July First Friday Book Synopsis – read Bob’s review of the book here).  As usual with Bob’s recommendations, it was a good one.  And the reason is this:  leadership is not restricted to the world of business.  It is everywhere present, all around us.  There are bad leaders, misdirected leaders, mediocre leaders, and a few really good leaders.  (too few).

In this book, the fictional maestro provides a number of valuable lessons, like:

#1 – Listen first, then lead. The maestro was constantly demanding subtle, almost imperceptible corrections to the orchestra.  When the small corrections were made, the music became far better, much more alive.  And he knew the flaws, and developed the correctives, only by listening very carefully to the orchestra – each part, each section, of each piece of music.

#2 – Visualize the ideal; recognize the current reality; close the gap between the two. The maestro was always listening to two pieces of music – the “perfect” version in his head, and the “actual” version in rehearsal. From the book:

Hearing the two versions (the “perfect version in my head, and the “actual version” at rehearsal) of the piece superimposed, I find the difference between the two.  There’s a gap between them, and the work of the rehearsal process is to eliminate that gap.

Only after the “perfect version” is clear will the rehearsals provide the improvements necessary to move toward the ideal, the “perfect.”

#3 – Actually lead – be one-half step ahead of the people at all time. There is a wonderful section of the book when a student conductor is being critiqued/mentored by the maestro.  He observes that the student’s baton is, in essence, following the music of the orchestra.  The maestro explains that the baton has to be “just ahead” of the orchestra.  The maestro has to beckon the orchestra to follow, not just keep time with the orchestra, and certainly not follow the orchestra.  This is a terrific point.  Leadership is ahead of the people – but just far enough ahead that the people can still follow.

There are other leadership lessons from the maestro found in this wonderful book.  This is a terrific read.  I commend the book to all who lead others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *