Playmaking leadership in the eyes and hands of great conductors


Itay Talgam uses the faces of conductors to talk through different leadership styles. On one extreme is the face of Riccardo Muti. He is shown as very commanding and competent. He has the expression of one who is responsible for Mozart. He wants the music to be played his way, the proper way. As competent as he was, 700 music employees of La Scala wrote to him (2005) asking him to resign because, they felt, he was using them as instruments.

Talgam uses the expressions of Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein and Carlos Kleiber to explore other ways of leading without commanding. In those expressions there is the encouragement for the orchestra to exercise their own responsibility, to express themselves, to add interpretation, to become storytellers themselves. They are expressions that energise their fellow professionals. Kleiber is shown as rejoicing in the play, joining with the orchestra in spreading happiness. Great conductors and leaders are playmakers. Just watch from 19:27 to see leaderful joy.

This happy and blessed state is the product of hard work. There are hours of meticulous practice as the music gets under the skin of the musicians. They are led and lead each other to this ecstasy through the practice of the community, by listening to one another, by responding to each other, by loving each other. They all know their place in the social system and play their responsible part in it, with their abilities, goals and wills, according to the boundaries of the organisation. It’s hard work that works magic.

Conducting has often been used as a metaphor for leadership. The metaphor raises the importance of listening and negotiating the parts we want to play, the level which we want to work together and practice together. It shows the possibilities of engagement and empowerment which dissolves organisational boundaries as play pleases, drawing others in pleasure.

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