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A leadership lesson, set to Mendelssohn

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

When Maestro Wolfgang Heinzel stands before the Merck Orchestra, he may look like an authoritarian leader, commanding musicians from his podium.

But Heinzel doesn’t actually know how to play the instruments himself—“in the same way a leader in an organization can’t do everyone’s job,” says Jon Chilingerian, adjunct professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD. “But somehow he has to develop a sense of cooperation, of commitment, and develop a collaborative organization.”

You can learn everything you need to know about leadership by watching a maestro lead his orchestra through a new piece of music.

What maestros—and good leaders—understand:

Delegating (well) breeds success. When the orchestra had trouble with a particular passage in a new piece of music by Mendelssohn, Maestro Heinzel asked the other musicians to watch the “principal” violinist and his bow. In other words, he delegated to a top performer. Chilingerian calls such principal players the conductor’s executive team.

“Better to give the responsibility to him, and then for me it’s much easier,” says Heinzel.

Every individual needs to be seen as a contributor. Says Heinzel: “I swear to you that every artist, I think everybody in the world, wants to express what he has inside. And now it’s up to me to take these energies and bring them all together.”

Coaxing the best from a team requires adapting your style. The maestro tries being directive, then guiding, then persuading, and finally turns the responsibility over to the musicians to play the piece as a single voice. “It’s empowerment,” says Chilingerian.

— Adapted from “Merck Orchestra: using Mendelssohn to teach leadership,” David Turecamo, INSEAD Knowledge.

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