Nov 1

How About Leading Like THE Maestro Super-Star

Jean-Francois Cousin
Jean-Francois Cousin is an Executive Coach, based in South-East Asia, who passionately cares about helping People unleash their talents and fulfil their aspirations

Private jet? Yacht? Castles? This multi-millionaire had them all, and much more…
What’s so surprising? It is that the gentleman, Herbert von Karajan, was an orchestra conductor, and such a job – although it is glamorous- does not pay much usually.

Karajan passed away at 81, and his obituary in The New York Times described him as “probably the world’s best-known conductor and one of the most powerful figures in classical music”.  Why was he so special?

He started his career in the 1930’s with prodigious skills, hard-work and ambition, but that’s not what made him a multi-millionaire Super-Star.  What made him achieve unparalleled greatness in the world of classical music is the amazing standard of Leadership he attained.

At the beginning of his career in the 1930’s, he was a highly-demanding and “directive” conductor, explaining in great details to his musicians how he wanted them to play, and then rehearsing dozens of times the difficult parts of symphonies and operas. Extreme hard work… (watch

While he was still young, Karajan started to learn how to ride horses. One day, his trainer told him “tomorrow, you will learn how to jump obstacles with your horse”. Karajan did not sleep the whole night, as he could not figure out how to have such a huge animal take off in the air and pass over a 1.50 meter-high hay… The next day, he rode his horse towards the obstacle, quite terrified and unable to do anything… and the horse just jumped over the bar… all by himself. The lesson Karajan learnt was of tremendous importance for his career:

“There is so much an orchestra can do if you trust it to go for it all the way; the conductor really has only to manage 2-3% of the time.”

“There is so much an orchestra can do if you trust it to go for it all the way; the conductor really has only to manage 2-3% of the time.” (watch

And indeed, the vast audiences watching Karajan conduct in the second part of his career were amazed to see him so restrained in his gestures. Musicians were also surprised at the beginning… Traditionally, brass players are the ‘loud mouths’ in orchestras, and once, in London, a trumpet player dared to ask him: “Maestro, with all due respect, when should I start playing my tune?”, as Karajan’s gestures were limited and rather imprecise… And the Chef just answered “when you can not hold it anymore”… Journalists were also mystified. And one questioned Karajan: “Maestro, why don’t you give precise indications to your orchestras?” Karajan finally shed light on the apparent magic: “because that’s the worst damage I could do to them: then musicians would not listen to each other.” (watch

While fully empowering his orchestras, Karajan remained highly demanding all his Life. But he knew really well how to thank his players for the extra hard-work he commanded, with sincerity and wit (watch

A poignant testimony to Karajan’s exceptional leadership is his last concert, when he was extremely weak already (he died a few months later). Although his body could hardly move, the orchestra played a music that all critics deemed divine… (watch

Karajan once said: “those who have achieved all their aims probably set them too low.” How about you reconsider your aims in Leadership, and try and figure out:

  • how much more you can get from your team by doing less yourself?
  • what you can do to have your team-members listen more to each other and play as a team?
  • how you can motivate them to take more initiatives?
  • how you will measure progress?

You may like to share your intentions up-front with your team first. And start with small steps, keeping in mind what Patton said: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”.

Your rewards? Maybe not a private jet, a yacht and castles… in the short-term at least! But most certainly more time to focus on what matters most… to achieve Greatness, whilst demonstrating care towards your subordinates and followers.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 1st, 2010 at 03:06 and is filed under Human Resources, Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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