Music and Leadership

Here is a talk/performance by one of the living legends in the world of music. Ben Zander is a leading interpreter of Mahler and Beethoven and the co-author of the best selling book The Art of Possibility.

To my opinion the below movie tells more about leadership than any course on that subject in any business school.

These are some of the elements that hit me most in this movie and they pretty much sum up the essence of leadership.

Learning to commit instead of control

He demonstrates how beginners concentrate on each step. As we grow up and learn we are able to see past the individual step and instead see the whole movement. The same goes for leaders: beginners always try to control each step and mature leaders are rather committing to the whole movement instead of trying to control each step.

Mature leaders are committing rather than controlling. As Zander conveys: “It is one of the characteristics of a leader that he does not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming.”

Later in this performance he says: “A conductor does not make a sound. He depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful… As a leader your job is to awaken possibility in other people.”

Without mentioning the word, what Zander is talking about is ’empowerment’. How I wish I knew about his insights when I was an MBA student – it would have helped me through those dull academic definitions that completely – utterly – miss the point.


Through the metaphor of music, Zander shares his insights on taking responsibility. If eyes of your audience aren’t shining you should ask yourself ‘who am I being that their eyes aren’t shining?’. This question puts you in the position of what I would call “radical responsibility” and this entails both, good and bad news. First: you declare yourself ‘being in the driver’s seat'(Zander calls this ‘being the board’) and the bad news is: there are no excuses after that declaration.


Zander demonstrates how so many different people with individual ideas and situations can all be moved by one single piece of music at the same time. All humans are different but we can all connect through music. If a conductor were the leader of an organization, his vision would be the music that connects all different minds and motivate them to commit to the same goal. Of course, in order to do so there is one final ingredient to leadership, and that is passion…


The ‘shining eyes’ would not have been there if there if there wasn’t a spark from the leader. There is no better way to talk about leadership than to demonstrate it, and that is what Zander does – fuelled by his passion for music.

Related articles:
Always Remember Rule Number 6! (December 6th, 2007)
Redefining ‘Responsibility’ (October 22nd, 2007)