Composer Leadership

Itay Talgam, in his TED talk on the leadership styles of conductors, told the story of the resignation of Riccardo Muti, a conductor for the band in the world famous opera house La Scala. Mr. Muti is apparently considered one of the most talented conductors in music, but he was driven from the position by a near-united effort by the several hundred person staff of the opera house.

Why did it happen? Why was such a talented leader driven away? As Talgam masterfully summarizes, the musicians of La Scala wrote Mr. Muti saying that “You are a great conductor, but we don’t want to work with you. Please resign.” Mr. Muti’s style as a conductor was beautiful, ornate, and oppressive. That sounds like an odd list of descriptors, does it not? In a position of prominence, I think it is not as discordant as it appears. Mr. Muti did not merely lead the musicians: he controlled them. The musicians were not treated as people. They were treated as instruments, and instruments cannot personally develop and grow as musicians must.

Talgam then presented a composer who, once he got to the time of the performance, simply stood and enjoyed the beautiful performance. He created the team cohesion that rendered his own control unnecessary. That goes along with Collins’ concept of a level 5 leader.

Leaders need to possess the humbleness to recognize that it is not their own accomplishments and abilities that make their organizations great. Rather, it is the effectiveness of the entire team that makes it great. A truly great leader does not need the technical brilliance of Mr. Muti. Instead, he needs the willingness to be great through the work of his followers. He builds the organization to excel, and then he lets it do so.

So Mr. Talgam ends and so I end: “If you love something, you must let it go.”


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