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Classical 101

Roger Nierenberg's "Maestro" Is Not Business As Usual

If you like classical music (even if you don't!) and your work (at home, at the office, or elsewhere in the community) ever calls you to lead others, I recommend you read Roger Nierenberg's new book, Maestro: A Surprising Story about Leading and Listening. It's a fictional account of an executive of a floundering company learning leadership lessons from a wise and kindly orchestral conductor and his musicians. While Maestro might be new, the idea that business leaders can learn about the interpersonal subtleties of teamwork and leadership by studying the inner workings of the orchestra has been around a while. That idea is the basis of The Music Paradigm, the executive training program Nierenberg launched in 1995 in which corporate leaders have a chance to sit among the musicians of an orchestra and speak with Nierenberg (himself a conductor) about the the hidden interpersonal challenges of playing in and leading an orchestra.

Maestro's Plot

Clocking in at 118 pages, Maestro doesn't waste its readers' time. Nierenberg gets right to the matter: a corporate executive (whose name is never revealed) is besieged by squabbling and seemingly unmotivated division leaders who don't seem to want to help him fix the company's lagging sales figures. His daughter's violin teacher sets him up with a conductor known for being a good leader.  The conductor (whose name also is never revealed) invites the executive to sit in the orchestra while he rehearses it. Over several rehearsals and conversations with the conductor, the executive discovers how the conductor inspires his musicians. He also comes to realize how he has inadvertently micromanaged, dismissed and otherwise belittled his own employees. I won't tell you how the book ends, but I bet you can guess. It isn't a problem that Maestro, with its one-dimensional characters, its simplistic plot, its right-on-cue, egoless realizations of leadership ills perpetrated, is not great literature.  Since the book is written for corporate executives who may or may not see the value of orchestras at all, much less their relevance to the corporate world, the essentialized nature of Nierenberg's characters and story make for efficient reading. More importantly, however, is that finally, finally someone has brought clearly to the fore that playing in an orchestra is a multi-level wonder of teamwork, and that people who do it (and the very best conductors who lead them) harbor profound and subtle knowledge of teamwork and leadership.

Maestro's Lessons For Executives

This book teaches pearls of wisdom that wise executives in any hierarchical environment should internalize: How to inspire creative people? Communicate to them your larger vision and engage their creativity (i.e., what they do best) by soliciting their input. How do you earn the respect of your team?  Encourage each member's unique contributions and treat each member with equal respect. How do I get to know my team members' unique abilities?  Listen, listen, listen. But most important for classical music, Maestro shows that music's power isn't just limited to its ability to move us emotionally; if we care enough to explore it, music's power can inspire us to inspire others. What could be better than that?

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.