I’ve always been jealous of my cousin Dana’s voice. She’s a classically trained singer with the Washington Choral Arts Society in Washington DC, and I was glad that she was willing to sing at my wedding years ago.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend a number of her performances over the years, ranging from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana to annual holiday concerts in December and lots in between.
One year she told me about an upcoming concert with a very unexpected conductor: Bobby McFerrin. Yes, THAT Bobby McFerrin, of “Don’t Worry Be Happy” fame.
McFerrin was a formally trained folk and jazz artist, who – among other talents – could use his voice and body to make and imitate sounds you wouldn’t think the human body was capable of producing.
But somehow, in my woefully limited knowledge and understanding, having “the Don’t Worry Be Happy guy” conduct the Washington Choral Arts Society seemed incompatible at best.
Boy, was I wrong.
“What’s he like?” I asked Dana.
“He’s incredible!” she replied. “He’s so talented, not just in what he can sing himself, but it’s amazing what he can get US to
And the concert was, indeed, mesmerizingly beautiful!
That’s the beauty of great leadership: it’s not about how brilliant we are individually, but rather how brilliantly we can get the rest of our orchestra to play in perfect harmony from the conductor’s chair.
The notion of being the conductor of your team’s orchestra was also a central theme of this week’s episode of the Speaking to Influence podcast, with Dr. Shannon Hader, Dean of the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC.
As one of her direct reports informed her on the very first team she ever led, they didn’t need her to be a “guest oboist” or otherwise jump from chair to chair playing different instruments at different times; they needed a conductor. Someone who could help each play their individual instruments to the very best of their abilities, and collectively produce beautiful music.
Dean Hader and I also addressed moments when our orchestra hits sour notes, such as when your intentions are utterly misinterpreted (and not for the better), and challenges around changing long-standing daily habits and routines to fit a new reality.
It’s not easy, but it’s absolutely essential.
Another group that is all too clear on the importance of being able to clearly conduct their organization’s orchestra is the MSPA, or Mystery Shopping Providers’ Association at whose 25th Anniversary conference I had the honor of delivering yesterday’s keynote address.
“Mystery Shopping”… yup, that’s a thing!
In case you recognize the other face but can’t quite place it, that’s Charles Stiles, past president of the MSPA but more popularly known for being the host of the Food Network show Mystery Diners for nearly a decade.
He and his crew would set up “sting” operations in restaurants around the country at the owner’s request to find out what was at the root of dwindling profits and customer complaints.
It was a full orchestration of collaborators posing as new employees and customers wearing hidden microphones, with surveillance cameras, and more.
Charles and I met when he was in Philadelphia about eight or nine years ago, when he was preparing to shoot an episode in one of the local restaurants near where I used to live. He was standing on the sidewalk outside my apartment, looking around the neighborhood, and I happened to recognize him.
As a fan of the show, I took the opportunity to introduce myself, welcome him to the neighborhood, and get the inside scoop on which restaurant was the “target” for the upcoming episode. We’ve been friends ever since, and this year he invited me to speak at the MSPA conference.
(Who says networking isn’t a long game, and doesn’t pay off?)
But as I have come to learn, what’s even more unique for this particular industry is that a Mystery Shopping service provider company may only have a few dozen or 10% of members who are actually full-time W2 employees; the other 90% – with numbers in the thousands – are 1099 contractors.
Motivating FT employees is hard enough; how do you motivate day-to-day contractors to take a sense of pride and ownership, appreciating the value of a job well done, when their engagement may only last a few hours at a time, and take place on multiple sites over the course of a day or week?
In other words, how do you get all these individual instrumentalists to play together and create a symphony instead of cacophony?
That’s what we discussed in my session.
And speaking of conferences, I’m also honored to keynote again this Friday, 10/14 at the Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Leadership event: Breaking Barriers and Igniting Impact.
For more information and registration details, please check out lbccc.org/events .
Now the question becomes: Regardless of what instrument you originally played, can you hand it over to someone else, and learn the art and science of conducting to show your ensemble how to play your magnum opus?