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What is your leadership style?

May 18, 2010

Many years ago when I was a Freshman at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City  an older student told me,

“You know, Brian, there are two ways to lead: inspiration or intimidation.”

He knew I wanted to be a conductor and I think he thought he was helping me.  Maybe not?  Either way, he put an idea in my head that has lasted for a long time and has given me much to think about.

I would imagine most people would think that inspiration is preferable to intimidation.  But, more and more study is devoted to how people learn and the path to a conclusive answer is a long and craggy one. For a compelling read on this topic, and to be in the know about the state of motivation, give Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, a read.  I am not saying whether or not I agree with the book – it is an example of the state of the field.

I have come to believe in our world of conducting that there are actually three types of common leadership styles:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Intimidation
  3. Information

What type of leader is the best? Who gets the most and best results? And, furthermore, if a style works for one person can it work for another?

You probably readily understand leadership styles one and two, but for the sake of discussion, here’s a brief description. Style number one: The conductor is so amazing on a musical/technical/historical/intellectual/emotional level that the players cannot help but be inspired to do their best. Style number two: Tow the line or you will be thrown out or humiliated in front of your peers.

I have seen both of these styles in action. David Becker, a great conductor and musician, conducted the Oklahoma Summer Arts Festival orchestra a few times when I played in it many moons ago.  He was continutally inspiring. I left rehearsal pondering how great music is, and how lucky I was to have it as my (then) future profession.  On the other end of the spectrum, I once witnessed a rehearsal at Charleston Ballet Theatre where the person running rehearsal threw people out, screamed at people, and even went so far as to insult some of the dancers on a personal level. 

But, as far as information, what does that mean? 

Some conductors have a very businesslike approach. Their rehearsal procedures and goals are clearly outlined, and even written down and handed out to the players.  They know what they want from the musicians and go about getting it in a very workmanlike way. The orchestra sounds better, and the goals are achieved. The musicians may leave feeling neither particularly inspired nor intimidated, but they can hear the improvement in the ensemble.

What’s my leadership style?  I think I touch all three categories. If asked what I’d prefer to be, I would say inspiring. But, that’s because of those heady high-school days when I left rehearsal floating on air.  Sometimes you have to hold people accountable, and that can be viewed as intimidating in our often-sensitive times. And, it never hurts give clear information and to have a systematic approach to rehearsals.

What’s your rehearsal style?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    September 14, 2010 12:06 pm

    It seems to me from my experience working in orchestras as a player and observing other organizations that the ideal would have to be a healthy balance of all three. It seems like most conductors I’ve played under have strong ability in each of these categories. You make a good point with the information side, but I can’t begin to imagine a conductor who actually makes money that would be so boring and uncreative as to handle an orchestra with that perspective alone. If a leader falls too strongly into any one of these categories, I’d say they’re too far toward an extreme, even if that person is the most inspiring person in the world.


  1. Manager, Persuader, Demagogue – Information, Inspiration, Intimidation « Conductorsblog

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