John R. Taylor, Ph.D.

     The jumbled utterances of over 150 musical instruments occurring simultaneously was noise, purely chaotic noise.  Each player within themselves, enthralled about their own individual task of tuning and warming up.  Then a single person steps up to small stage, a cubical for one, and makes a single and simple gesture.  Suddenly, the chaos becomes order.  The noise becomes music.  

     Itay Talgam described this scenario in his TED talk given in October of 2009 on leadership.  He then jokingly adds, “Wouldn’t it be fun to think that it was all about the conductor...but it is not.”  What the conductor is striving to achieve is perfect harmony, a chance to tell a story.  This story, however, is composed by everyone in attendance.  It is the story of the builders who built the music hall, the stories of the persons in the audience, the stories of each musician and the story of the original composer.  Somehow, the conductor waves his arms in apparently meaningless gestures and perfect harmony is achieved to thunderous applause.  The sounds of success!  But, if that is to be labelled as successful, who do we exactly thank for the success?  What really does a conductor/leader do?


     In an attempt to answer the question of “what does a conductor do?”, Itay Talgam showed a clip of Carlos Kleiber, arguably one of the greatest conductors, waving and rolling his arms, as if simply reacting to the music.  At times he slashed with emphasis, or crouched to suggest a quieter portion of the music to come, but all these movements were portrayed with joy.  Itay suggested, “He was happy...spreading happiness.  And, this joy comes from enabling others.”  

     Ultimately, I strive to spread happiness.  Coworkers, colleagues, patrons alike should find joy in their work, classes and participation.  I strive to help people see the joy in what they are doing, helping them see the meaning behind the mundane tasks and to take ownership of their creations.



     Management is where vision meets reality.  Though a grand idea may be agreed upon, it is nothing more than a dream unless something is produced.  Production is the specialty of managers.  Music trapped within the mind of the conductor is useless unless they have a way to translate that dream into reality.  Concert halls must be procured, tickets need to marketed and sold, money needs depositing and paychecks need to be issued.  This list represents only a tiny fraction of the details required for a conductor like Kleiber to tell the story of his music to the audience.  Furthermore, though he may be a gifted musician, he most likely is not a great business manager.  As some may be gifted with musical vision, others may be gifted with seeing the details.  It is this perspective that is needed to translate the overall vision into terms that can be further clarified to subordinates into objectives.  These objectives are then distilled even further into individual tasks that can be assigned for completion.

     I feel I am naturally more of a leader, with enough wisdom to know that there are fantastic managers to assist me.  While I feel I’m a competent manager, I also feel I am a team player who knows I cannot do all tasks perfectly, and in fact, realizes there are others who could do a much better job at some tasks than I.


     Another master conductor, Lenny Bernstein, was famous for his joyful style of leadership.  His infectious charisma and love of music permeated his concerts, framing the stories found within the music.  Occasionally, the story was in such perfect harmony that he was “doing, without doing.”  One of his concert pieces illustrates this principle perfectly.  There is a point, near the beginning of the song, where Bernstein puts his baton away, folds his arms, closes his eyes and stands almost still.  The orchestra performed perfectly without him doing anything.  To me, this is the pinnacle of leadership.

     Itay Talgam commented that it was still “control, but in a very special way.  Bernstein created the process and the conditions for the process to occur.  It is not necessarily a top-down message.  It’s a different level of control...a partnership.” This level of control is not without direction and reprimand when needed.  Without having a domineering presence he shows that the authority is still there.  When a trumpet player was off just a bit, a slight glance and subtle gesture was sent his way.  Once order was restored, the baton is pulled back and the eyes close once again.  Doing, without doing, means giving the control away when possible and letting others tell their story.  To do this, authority figures must have clear expectations but also allow room for creativity and expression.

     Good leaders and managers know how to “give it away.”  They seem to be a good mix of the different leadership styles, knowing when a bureaucratic approach is necessary and when to let a group politically handle it.  Knowing when to step aside to let collegium rule.  This cybernetic approach is complex to say the least, but I have found it to be the most effective.  Like a concert, effective management is all about timing; knowing precisely when to do the right thing.

     The goal I have for all the moments when I am in a leadership position, whether it be a baseball team, the Commander of Cadets, Scout Master, ecclesiastical leader, or even Provost Faculty Fellow for Academic Affairs, is to do, without doing; to create the environment where no one thinks they are working for me, but that they actually working with me.  That ownership is assumed by all and the personal work of individual creation takes over.  I want to create an environment where my coworkers are so well practiced and excited to participate in the telling of our stories that I could ultimately be able to stand still, with eyes closed, and baton put away, while my team creates happiness.  To me, that is perfect leadership.  That is doing, without doing.