Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.
– Vince Lombardi
During my active career as musical conductor, I continued to work on my personal skills for 40 years. Each year I experienced a transformation that impacted my conducting skills and musical effectiveness. Over a period of 5 years, I attended the Robert Shaw workshop in Princeton, New Jersey, at Westminster Choir College. Each two-week intensive was a microcosm of conducting skills and musical wisdom that I really couldn’t find any other place.
Robert Shaw taught by preparing a choral masterwork and performing it. Each summer there were 200 very skilled musical colleagues, each a consummate professional – conductor, soloist, or music educator – in attendance. They were all after the same goal as I was – to learn from the master conductor.
During his career, Shaw influenced choral conductors worldwide and impacted how the choral art was measured. He had a very distinctive style, indeed. He was a servant to musical excellence. His vision was to bring out the power of the music, without exhausting self. His ego was secondary to the mission of excellence in making music. The obituary in the Atlanta newspaper reported that he felt inadequate. Knowing so much means knowing all that is yet to be learned – that’s excellence in self-awareness.
Transposing that paradigm to nonmusical situations means attaining perspective as a leader. It means knowing that there is more to learn. It means serving the vision for the organization, rather than serving self.
I went to these workshops to learn the “tricks of the trade,” so to speak. I found out that success was thorough planning, effective rehearsal, and hard work – there’s no short-cut.
Here are a couple of quotes from Robert Shaw that define success:
Creating fine music is like cleaning the kitchen floor. In order to get the floor clean, one has to get on hands and knees and scrub to get it really clean. In music, the ensemble must drill on the difficult parts to get them “clean.” Clean in this sense means that the entire ensemble is together and is faithful to the notes as written. Shaw was highly skilled at teaching rhythmic accuracy. Business and nonprofit leaders don’t always develop a keen sense of the “music” that they are leading. Knowing the score means knowing your vision and goals and knowing how to communicate the desired outcome. The key is to master self before leading others.
Tend to the details so the spirit of the music can come out. When performers have not mastered the notes, the rhythms, and the intricacies of the texts, there is no way to focus on making music. This is related to the first quote in that mastering the details means being able to be fully present in implementing the plan. Otherwise, you are being a slave to the notes and a barrier to full expression.
I could write a book on the quotes of Robert Shaw. He had a gift for being able to combine a few words to create a powerful message. His words and his delivery were profound.
Being a leader means being a skilled communicator, being prepared, and knowing your plan thoroughly.
There’s no escaping hard work.
Subscribe to The Transformational Leadership Strategist by Email
I also attended the Robert Shaw Workshops from 1979 to 1985, skipping 1983 and his amazing comments have been a beacon of truth ever since. I first went because the Berlioz Requiem was one of my favorite pieces and I was sure I would never have a chance to sing it any where else. The next day, we were all waiting for his comments, knowing that we had screwed up some parts. He said that he thought a decent performance of that Requiem could be done in a large gym with an organ. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Then, he said, “We will now turn to the Beethoven Missa Solemnis and find out what happens when genius is combined with intelligence.” Also, he had a fit about 16th notes, saying that they had a life of their own and we were killing them. He then hit his head (to get our attention) and said, “I just thought of a 32nd note and what you would do to it.” He was a meta musician.