Simon Terry

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Leaders reach magic in people

The great leaders are like the best conductors – they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.” – Blaine Lee

As a board member of Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, I have had the opportunity over the last 5 years to witness the power of leadership in drawing out the magic of exceptional personal and team performance. In that time, I have learned a great deal about leadership from William Hennessy, MCO’s exceptional Artistic Director.

MCO performs works both conducted and unconducted.  A group from 8-30 performers is led either from a conductor’s podium or from within the orchestra.  However the group is led, you see five elements demonstrated by the leaders in the best performances:

Passion:  A great leader brings passion for the work, the players and for the performance.  That energy is infectious inspiring the players and will be conveyed to the audience.  This passion is inspired by a sense of creative purpose and a will to create excellence.

Preparation: Preparation runs from design of the program years in advance through rehearsals to the minutes before performance.  Quality of preparation for performance is key to the results of the group.  An audience only gets one chance to hear a great performance. Every thing must be done beforehand to maximise that outcome.   

Attention:  Great performances just don’t happen.  They are shaped by a meticulous attention to the detail.  No leader goes through the motions or relies on their big picture view of the desired result.  Leadership of an orchestra cannot be outsourced.  As lean organisations where everyone must pull their weight, the leader of an orchestra must pay attention to every aspect of performance to lead a great result.  Their eyes and ears are constantly alert to the detail of the work and to their next intervention.

Communication: A leader does not need words to communicate.  A tempo & level of performance can be set by role modelling.  Coaching can be made with a glance or movements of the body.  However delivered, the communication is continuous and two-way.  Leaders receive feedback from the players in the same way and use that to shape the group together in a great performance.  The leader is looking to ensure that the whole orchestra remain together at the peak of performance in the work.  

Effort: Leadership of an orchestra is not a passive endeavour.  It is physically and mentally demanding work.  Beginning well before performance in planning and rehearsal this effort continues through until after the audience has left the hall.   You don’t lead an orchestra through hierarchical position.  You lead through sustained physical engagement with the players and music.  It is not uncommon to see a musician using every spare moment to practice for a piece.  The same applies to their leaders.  

All leaders can learn from other domains.  Come see MCO perform and be surprised by the magic of leadership in another domain.


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