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The Science Proving the Power of Strong Leadership

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The Science Proving the Power of Strong Leadership

By: Steve Sadler, CEO, Allegiancy

November 30, 2015

They are among the most prized handcrafted objects in the world. They are precision instruments, highly specialized and known to produce refined sounds that resonate, alternately “velvety” and “stunningly brilliant,” according to experts. They are also pure and powerful, projecting a sound that blossoms and radiates. They define their industry.

They are, of course, violins crafted by the famed Italian master Antonio Stradivari, who lived from about 1644 to 1737. His musical instruments are so treasured by musicians and collectors alike — the “Lady Blunt” Stradivarius sold in 2011 to a collector for a mind-boggling $15.9 million — you would almost think they could play themselves.


Orchestra Leadership Allegiancy 2In the hands of a highly-skilled musician, one of the 650 surviving Stradivarius violins, or 55 cellos, or a dozen violas, produce beautiful music. Put one of them in my hands, however, and I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be beautiful music you’ll hear.

It still takes talent, skill, expertise and 10,000 hours of practice to liberate the delightful sounds for which a Stradivarius is known around the world. Even someone who practices frequently and may be an accomplished violinist cannot be expected to truly make a Stradivarius sing, if you will.

It strikes me that running a business is like that. Certainly for any given business, there are plenty of talented, driven, smart and savvy people who could run it. But too often that’s not the case, it seems.

All too frequently businesses are left in the hands of people who aren’t driven, lack motivation and skill and don’t know how to truly coax all of the potential out of their company and its employees.

In an entrepreneurial nation where owning a business is a privilege and an honor, it’s a travesty.

Even then, though, a business can be in the hands of someone who appears to be skilled, but something’s not quite right. There’s something off. The person might have the right pedigree, the proper degree from the right school and outwardly exhibit all the apparent qualities of a successful businessman or businesswoman.

But the company’s performance is off. It’s struggling. It’s not making money, it’s customers aren’t happy, the employees who may be talented and sharp and skilled are frustrated … sound familiar? Could this be why our economy is stumbling along? Maybe this is why American businesses are dying faster now than ever before?

Orchestra Leadership Allegiancy 3How could that be when by all appearances everything is in place for a business to succeed.

Let’s turn to the world of music and the science of something called “coordinated action” for the answer.

It’s a relative handful of people around the world who are privileged enough and skilled enough to coax magnificence out of a Stradivarius. Yet put that extraordinary musician with the Stradivarius in a group, say an orchestra, and will they stand out? Or will the singular sound get lost in the accompanying strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion and other instruments?

Have you ever heard an orchestra warming up? Each individual musician tunes his or her instrument; maybe they go through the scale or play some notes from the composition they are to perform.

When everyone in an orchestra does his or her own thing as they are warming up, it sounds horrible. It’s hardly music. It reminds me, actually, of listening to my lovely daughters banging on pots and pans in the kitchen when they were toddlers. That wasn’t music. It was cute, but it wasn’t music. At least to me.

It’s the conductor’s responsibility to ensure that an orchestra reaches its peak performance. Yet when it comes to an orchestra, each musician is a virtuoso who performs at the very top of their craft. Theoretically, at least in my mind, they should be able to read the music in front of them and play the song they’ve practiced over and over to produce a harmonious, beautiful sound.

A conductor doesn’t seem necessary when it comes to professional musicians. These folks are already pros, right? How can a conductor make that much of a difference? To the layperson the conductor’s baton waving looks inconsequential, silly even.

It turns out, an experienced conductor can make all the difference.

A 2012 study by University of Maryland professor Yiannis Aloimonos and several colleagues sought to answer the influence a conductor had on these highly skilled orchestral musicians. Alomoinos and his colleagues tracked and recorded the movements of violinists and conductors during the execution of Mozart pieces to find causal relationships.Orchestra Leadership Allegiancy 1

In the big picture, Aloimonos and his colleagues were studying “coordinated action,” a social interaction skill at the basis of “evolutionary relevant collective behaviors such as defense, reproduction, or hunting,” according to their study. Or, I might add, the relevant collective behavior of a successful business.

To measure coordinated action and to draw a conclusion, the researchers took a conductor’s baton and installed a tiny infrared light at the tip of it. They also placed tiny infrared lights on the bows of the violinists in the orchestra, composed of professional Italian musicians. Infrared cameras were then placed around the orchestra.

The cameras were able to capture the lights as they moved to follow the conductor’s baton and the bows of the violinists. The patterns of the lights were then fed into computers that used mathematical techniques — developed by Nobel Prize-winning economist Clive Granger (link) — that the researchers used to find links between the movements of the conductor and the violinists.

The question was whether the movement of the conductor was a predictor of the movements of the violinists. If so, then the conductor was obviously leading the players. But if the infrared patterns showed that the conductor was not predicting the movements of the violinists, then it was the musicians who were in charge.

What the research concluded, using the Granger Causality method applied to human Kinematics (Serious science!) was that the conductors were leading the violinists. The infrared light patterns clearly showed that the conductors predicted the movements of the violinists. The Leadership is REAL.

It didn’t stop there, however. In an interesting twist, Aloimonos and his team selected two conductors of vastly different abilities to lead the musicians: One was highly experienced who was a strong leader — NPR actually describes him as having an “iron grip” — and the other was an inexperienced amateur.

Aloimonos told NPR his team of researchers made a discovery. “What we found is the more the influence of the conductor to the players, the more aesthetic — aesthetically pleasing the music was overall,” he said.

Even music experts noted a difference. Although they didn’t know which performance was led by which conductor, they unanimously concluded that the experienced conductor produced a superior orchestra. Leadership MATTERS.

So what is all this telling us? It perfectly underscores the importance of strong leadership and that even the best employees with the best technology and tools (Stradivarius) need to be led by someone with the talent, experience, drive and inventiveness to coax greatness out of his subordinates.

In companies, all these moving parts — employees — can singularly produce good results. But pulling all the disparate parts together, what I call creating clarity from the chaos, takes strong, determined leadership that’s decisive and visionary.

It’s the difference between good and great, or success and failure. It’s the difference between a finely tuned, expertly crafted instrument in the hands of an amateur or the Stradivarius singing for an expert. And it’s the difference between a group led by an unaffected or inexperienced leader and one in the hands of an experienced master.

A Great Performance Requires Strong Leadership

How do you get the best performance?

Well, at first it’s simple and easy to manage. However, you will soon realize that the situation can quickly become quite chaotic.

But leadership changes things. It’s true for music and it’s true for business.

For owners of commercial real estate, Allegiancy is here to conduct business on your behalf. To bring clarity from the chaos.

Trust Allegiancy to bring superior outcomes and to bring the best possible performance.

To see strong leadership in action, watch this 1-minute video here.

Links for further reading:

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