Great orchestral conductors don’t waste any movements, and neither should any other accomplished leader.

The principal task of a conductor is not to put himself in evidence but to disappear behind his functions as much as possible. We are pilots, not servants.Franz Liszt

The conductor must listen more intently than any audience member or player. It’s insufficient to merely have a brilliant conception of the work in his head. A conductor must listen and analyze the gap between his vision and the sound coming from the orchestra. Only then should he deploy judicious gestures to close that gap. Any gestures not helping to close the gap are wasted.

If the orchestra perceives a conductor to be like the boy who cried wolf (he calls for more when they are giving their most, or subdivides the beat unnecessarily), he will be dismissed as a distraction. Once that happens, it doesn’t matter how brilliant a vision is in his head, the conductor’s ability to execute that vision will have been completely neutered.

To extrapolate these traits to great leaders in general:

  • Adjust your vision to the landscape, rather than re-articulate it by wrote. Close the gap between vision and progress-to-date.
  • Only interfere when things aren’t going well, and you’ll get a lot more people paying attention.

Thought Partner: John Oliver