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The Law of the Lid

September 14, 2010

(Note: This is part of a series based on John C. Maxwell’s book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.)

John C. Maxwell has written a number of books about leading and leadership.  They all have their merits and some of the books will resonate more with some readers than others, but it is his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership that really provides some delicious food for thought for us in the conducting business.

Law Number One (I am calling it that, it is Chapter One in his book) is “The Law of the Lid.” The byline for this chapter reads, “Leadership Ability Determines a Person’s Level of Effectiveness.”

Maxwell describes the essence of this chapter in one sentence: “Leadership ability is the lid that determines a person’s level of effectiveness.”  That is enough of a thought for one to ponder for a while, but he continues: “The lower an individual’s ability to lead, the lower the lid on his potential. The higher the leadership, the greater the effectiveness.”  Later, “Your leadership ability – for better or for worse – always determines your effectiveness and the potential impact of your organization.”

Does that get the Cosmic Question going for you?  It does for me.  The Cosmic Question is, by the way, “How effective am I as a leader?”  That question leads to more questions.

  • How effective a leader am I?
  • How can I be a more effective leader?
  • Does the organization (in this case the orchestra I conduct) really reflect my leadership skills in totem?
  • Is it REALLY all on me?  REALLY?

Well, it is not really all about you and your leadership skills. And, it is, too.  This is a great dilemma to have because it gives you a chance to reflect, review and consider your strategies of effectiveness.

In this first chapter, Maxwell gives us this to consider: “Leadership is always the lid on personal and organizational effectiveness.” Furthermore, he maintains that your strive toward excellence is hindered if you do not develop your leadership skills.  It is an interesting point.  If you, as a conductor, are so wrapped up in your professional goals of excellence (however you define it) that you don’t develop your leadership skills, your success (which Maxwell consciously terms “effectiveness”) will be capped.

In our musical world there are numerous examples of conductors reaching a professional ceiling; they ascend, sometimes rapidly, to a position of considerable professional stature, yet don’t continue their ascent. Why do they stall out?  Could Maxwell be right? Could part of this issue be that these conductors haven’t developed their leadership skills enough to increase their effectiveness? The fun of this series of posts is that we are going to discuss these questions in detail as Maxwell brings us more to consider.

This is where the rubber meets the road: What is the lid for your orchestra? Are you the lid?  If you are the leader, of course you are.  But, how do you go about raising the lid?

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