Practice, Prowess, & Passion

Conducting3

Warren Bennis has been quoted as saying, “I used to think that running an organization was equivalent to conducting a symphony orchestra. But I don’t think that’s quite it; it’s more like jazz. There is more improvisation.” Being uniquely qualified to comment, as someone who has conducted orchestras, led jazz ensembles, and run at least large divisions of multiple national and international organizations, I love this concept.

The idea is great but there is more to it than that. We all see the leader of a company, making speeches and accepting awards for the results their people achieved. We see the conductor on the podium, bowing to take credit for the sounds they didn’t even make. But that’s not where leadership happens. The true leadership is in all the steps it takes to get there, not just the final performance. All of the learning, the studying, the driving, the pushing, the pulling, the continual effort, and the intentional steps to get there are really what shapes the lasting legacy of the leader. Without the leadership, the performance would fall flat. Is that really any different than your organization…when you really think about it?

A conductor of a symphony orchestra spends more time preparing alone than with others. One conventional theory of score study dictates that for every minute of music, a conductor should spend one hour of score study. So, yes, a 45 minute symphony would require 45 hours of study! Before the concert or even the rehearsal is the intensive study time. This is where thoughts, ideas, and concepts turn into concrete action plans. This is the practice before the practice. Are you spending the necessary alone time alone to craft your message before sharing it with the group?

In the book, Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change, the authors say, “Much of Prowess is Practice.” And haven’t we all heard sayings like, “What does it take to get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice.” Did you just say it out loud with me? (My own personal journey to play at Carnegie Hall was a combination of practice and knowing the right people at the right time.) And isn’t it interesting to hear someone like Arnold Palmer say, ”It’s a funny thing, the more I practice, the luckier I get.” What you see on the stage is the prowess of a practiced professional, honed by hours of individual study time, crafted through rehearsals where numerous interpretations are unified into one. Is your process actually much different?

Prowess through practice isn’t enough though, is it? There is one more ingredient which, in my opinion, is the most important. Passion.

Recently, while attending a Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert, we were treated to the sister piano duo of Katia and Marielle Labèque, performing the Poulenc Concerto for Two Pianos. Clearly displaying prowess through practice, the sisters (who have probably played this piece hundreds of times) were so contagiously passionate about the piece. Their joy in performing was absolutely infectious. As they smiled, we smiled. The passion they felt…we felt.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to cover conduct the same piece with two extremely well known pianists. At that time, I was left with a flat impression of the work, but I realize only now, that was unfair of the work. It was the missing passion of the performers, not the piece of music that left me feeling flat. Practiced prowess isn’t enough. A technically played piece of music is never as exciting as one delivered with passion. Combined, they are unstoppable. A passionate performance can change your whole outlook. It changed mine. Is your meeting delivered with passion, or merely practiced prowess?

So then, my question is this: Is it any different in your office, or in your team? Planning and practicing leads to prowess, but it is only when prowess is truly ignited by passion, that you can accomplish anything you set out to do. Have you made time in your plan to include practice, prowess, & passion?

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