Are You A Conductor?



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Changing game plan when needed

In 2004, I watched the first season of The Apprentice where Donald Trump fired a person each episode.

It came to a climatic ending where only two people remained – Kwame Jackson and Bill Rancic. Trump eventually fired Jackson and Rancic became the first winner of the reality show.

Born and raised in Chicago, Rancic was always an entrepreneur at heart. His first ever business venture was selling pancakes with his grandmother.

He explains, “I learned how to make pancakes with my grandmother, who invited all her friends to brunch. When I was clearing the dishes I discovered that each blue-haired lady had left a $5 bill under her plate. I started begging my mom to take me to my grandmother’s every weekend.”

Thus began his entrepreneurial and leadership journey.

Rancic believes that “to be successful, you have to think of yourself as an orchestra conductor. A conductor may not be an expert at each instrument, but he knows how to make all of them work together harmoniously and make beautiful sound.”

That got me thinking. How many business leaders are like orchestra conductors? Or are they more comfortable playing their ‘own’ instruments?

Most orchestra conductors begin their career specialising in an instrument. However, to lead the orchestra, they reinvent their role from specialist to conductor, ensuring all instruments are played perfectly at the right time to produce amazing music.

From noise to harmony

Conducting an orchestra can be a model for team management, according to Itay Talgam, the authority on orchestra and leadership.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Talgam postulated that through understanding the working methods of great conductors, you can learn ‘principles to lead’.

An orchestra conductor faces the ultimate leadership challenge: to create pure harmony without uttering a word.

Talgam adds,

“A conductor out of the chaos, can create order. Noise becomes music.”

A business leader is similar as they need to create perfect ‘harmony’ in their business.

In a TEDTalk, Talgam walks through the story of different conductors and their different styles. There is the commanding conductor (Riccardo Muti), who led his orchestra through authority but it resulted in unhappy people.

In fact, he received a letter signed by all 700 musicians of La Scala asking him to resign. Why?

Because he didn’t let his musicians develop. They felt treated as instruments, not as partners.

The same can be said of some authoritative bosses, who are commanding but have extremely unhappy employees.

Talgam goes on to describe a few more types of conductors until he showcases the ‘perfect’ conductor – someone who allows each musician to express themselves freely, yet takes full control to ensure nothing goes wrong.

Talgam even shows a clip when things go wrong for this ‘perfect’ conductor – his trombonist goes off. He doesn’t panic but gently re-directs him back to the right path, ensuring harmony prevails in his orchestra.

Understanding your team

Like an orchestra conductor, being a leader within an organisation bears the same challenges – trying to create perfect harmony amongst the different variables in your business to ensure your organisation creates ‘beautiful’ products and profits.

According to Talgam, the best orchestra conductors understand their people, allow them to develop, treat them with respect, and yet gently nudge them towards the goal of making beautiful music.

As a leader you might have a strategy as well written as a symphony by Mozart, but if your orchestra is not well conducted, then noise will prevail over music.

Final thoughts

Back to Rancic and his story. In an interview for The Leaderonomics Show, I asked him how he won The Apprentice?

In his own words he said,

“By thinking through each task and changing my game plan when I had to.”

He went on to talk about how he displayed leadership which resulted in his victory. At the end of the day, Rancic won because he managed to produce the best ‘music’ for Trump.

See the interview with Bill Rancic on the Leaderonomics Show.

Just as a good orchestra conductor would. How about you? Are you conducting your team to success? Are you a good orchestra conductor?

You can read about 10 leadership lessons taken from orchestra conductors here.

Click play to listen to its corresponding podcast:

Roshan Thiran is CEO of Leaderonomics and is very passionate in transforming the nation one leader at a time. For more insightful leadership articles by Roshan, visit To engage with him, email

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