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Developing Leadership Skills by Using a Metaphor of Orchestra Rehearsals

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Rehearsals of top-notch orchestras and ensembles can represent an unprecedented source of deep learning for management teams said Dominique Dejonghe and Luc Galoppin from Pensato. They presented the symphony of insights at the Dare Festival Antwerp 2014.

Luc published a series of blogs on music and leadership. In part 8 Luc explains how the gap between languages that managers and musicians use can actually stimulate learning, if we dare to embrace it:

Musicians explain what is going on in their language, and managers explain what they are witnessing in their language. There is of course a huge gap between both languages and also the observations are sometimes totally different. But there is no attempt to close the gap.

If we want an experience to be a learning experience we should approach gaps differently and be appreciative of the fact that one ignorant person can learn something to another ignorant person – if only the focus is on embracing instead of closing the gap between the two worlds.

InfoQ interviewed Dominique and Luc about leadership development, the relationship between making music and managing organizations and on finding the oboe in your project or process.

How did you come up with the idea to work with an orchestra for leadership development?

Dominique & Luc: It was merely a coincidence: We were looking for an alternative income for orchestras since cultural grants are going down.  I was invited once on a rehearsal of the orchestra Anima Eterna Brugge and conductor Jos Van Immerseel invited me to have a seat in the orchestra instead of taking place in the concert hall audience places... What happened during this rehearsal was so exceptional and meaningful that we came up with this idea to share this with more managers... It is not only about leadership, but also about feedback, respect, collaboration, holding space, etc.

You ask people to tell about their favorite piece of music. Can you explain why?

Dominique & Luc: With this exercise we want to show people that music opens up something emotionally. Whenever we do this exercise, we see people answer that their favorite song is linked to an event with strong emotions. (e.g. a song I heard on the funeral of my best friend, the song that makes me think of my father/mother etc...) We all know that learning by emotion sticks, so learning through the metaphor of music making has also strong impact and induces a learning experience that sticks...

Can you describe your view on how music and management are related?

Dominique & Luc: It's not so much music and management, but 'making' music and management. The rehearsal process is the metaphor we use to give managers insights about leadership, feedback, etc. In these sessions they are invited to observe from within the orchestra and learn from this process. E.g they live the impact of the conductor and what he does (mostly not with words) to get the process of getting music out of the orchestra. Harmony, listening and collaboration are very important for getting that perfect sound, even so for an organisation.

You talked about "finding the oboe in your project or process", can you explain what you mean with this? How does it help organizations?

Dominique & Luc: The oboe is the instrument that takes the lead in the tuning of an orchestra. A lot of people do not know this but once you get attended to this, you will never miss this out again. Even more, you will be unable not to hear the oboe whenever the tuning process of an orchestra starts. That is the power of a learning insight. It was always there, but once you discover it, it becomes so apparent. It is the oboe that takes the lead because in the tuning it is the least flexible. So in management, thinking about the least flexible person / group in your project /organisation, and tune in with them, can be a strong insight whenever you start your project...

In your leadership development sessions you are working with orchestra's performing classical music. Could your approach also work with rock bands? Or with a DJ that produces house music?

Dominique & Luc: Sure, also Jazz is an interesting metaphor for learning purposes of instance. Getting managers out of there comfort zone and using the power of whatever metaphor is very powerful. We stumbled upon the orchestra, which is a very rich metaphor. However elaborate this further to other music or art forms would be interesting.

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