Our article about perspective reminded me of Maestro: A Surprising Story About Leading by Listening, the excellent book published in 2009 by Roger Nierenberg, the widely acclaimed international conductor from New York.
There are many important leadership lessons in this book, not least the importance of listening. As a conductor, Nierenberg’s explanation of his ability to compare what he actually hears with what he wants to hear, in real time, and seamlessly adjust the performance accordingly, gives a unique insight into the importance of true listening.
In an orchestra, the conductor has a slightly elevated position from which to integrate activities. Everybody is facing in the direction of the podium, which stands slightly above the orchestra and offers the conductor a unique position with which to hear the combination of all the sounds from each instrument.
By contrast, the members of the orchestra are sitting, or standing, at different distances from the podium, often with their backs to one another. They have different levels of involvement, some spending more time waiting for their moment than playing. The music each will hear will be slightly different, dominated by the instruments in their immediate vicinity, and at times they may hear little of what is going on in other parts of the orchestra – unless specifically directed to concentrate on that by the conductor. They will be absorbed in their own role and may be unaware of how the overall performance is going.
As a business leader you too have a unique position in your company. You see the overall results in a way that individual members of your teams may not. You are likely to be based at the hub of your organisation, whereas you may have important members of your team who work remotely or at least do not see you or feel the pulse of the organisation on a regular basis. Whilst you have the perspective of shareholders, customers, suppliers and markets accessible to you, your team are unlikely to have access to more than one of these parties.
‘What is it like for you’ should become your first thought in order to achieve the most from your teams. You must understand what it is like to be in each department of your organisation. Your teams are playing for you all day, every day, but are you ‘listening’ closely enough to know if they are getting it right, as their perspective of what is required may be very different to yours. Without the appropriate level of attention they may also not understand the significance of their role and the importance of its repeated excellent execution on the company as a whole. As the cleaner at NASA was reported to have replied when asked what her role was, ‘I am part of a team that puts men on the moon’! Do your teams get the big picture? If they don’t, it is your responsibility to make sure they do.
If you have the time, read Roger Nierenberg. Maestro: A Surprising Story About Leading by Listening. As a minimum, listen to the differing individual perspective(s) of other members of your team to make sure execution is flawless.