Music and Management Consulting

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
Lao Tzu

It pays to observe excellent artists at work in order to rediscover what excellence in business could be like. Excellence, as it turns out, is all about setting the context for others to contribute.

The below video shows a concert by Bobby McFerrin, the world famous vocalist of the tune “don’t worry, be happy”. We can see how he gives the Gounod version of Bach’s Ave Maria a new dimension. The way he does it is quite remarkable and simple at the same time: he makes the audience contribute to the performance.

Regular readers of this blog know that I like to make far-fetched comparisons. This post is no exception as I contend that McFerrin’s performance is a showcase for all management consultants. He shows us what contribution is all about: he sings the marvelous undertones of the Bach melody and he inspires the public to take the central stage and sing the melody. This results in an extraordinary experience for both, the artist (whom I would compare with the management consultant) and the audience (whom I would compare with the organization).

As I have stated in a previous post (Open Letter To My Colleagues (incl. Myself)) management consultants should know that their place is in the chair of the play director. On stage is the customer and any intervention on their behalf only makes the customer weaker and their ego stronger.

As the video demonstrates, McFerrin has found the key to a better customer experience: moving the stage over to where the customer is. The key element is of course contribution and involvement. As you can see it takes a gentle nudge and some instructions. But most of all it takes a consultant with leadership traits: decisive and determined that it will work.

A mediocre management consultant knows which actions are needed in order to get the job done. He will perform the job well and deliver the result to the customer. Just like a good performer he is entitled to applause of the audience and his invoice will be paid.

The excellent management consultant knows how to make the customer get the job done. He will not perform the job but create the context for the customer to perform the job and to continue doing that when he is gone. Like an excellent director, he applauds for his performer and coaxes the performer into the best conditions for an excellent performance.