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The Law of Respect

September 13, 2011

(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 provides some delicious food for thought for us in the conducting business.

Law Number Seven (or, Chapter Seven as titled in Maxwell’s book) is called “The Law of Respect.”  The byline for this chapter reads, “People Naturally Follow Leaders Stronger than Themselves.”

Maxwell begins this chapter with a profile of a person. He begins by listing her qualities: five feet tall, weathered skin by her late 30s, coarse and worn clothes, abandonded her husband, intermittent employment, would disappear every autumn from whatever menial job she had taken only to return months later broke. She could seem physically tough, but sometimes she would suddenly fall asleep – even in the middle of a conversation. She attributed the bouts of sleeping to a head injury she sustained in a fight during her teenage years. Who was that woman? Harriet Tubman.

That head injury? It came when she was a slave in the 1830s. Maxwell writes, “She was in a store, and a white overseer demanded her assistance so that he could beat an escaping slave. When she refused and blocked the overseer’s way, the man threw a two-pound weight that hit Tubman in the head. She nearly died, and her recovery took months.”

Tubman’s biography is celebrated for many reasons, helping free slaves among the top. But, another compelling attribute was her resolve. She stuck to what she believed was right and sacrificed all she could for it. We tend to respect leaders to give of themselves fully to their passions and beliefs.

What about her convictions? They produced results. Word about her spread; and she was not only revered for her commitment, but she was admired for the results she produced: 19 trips from the North to the South and back, over 300 persons guided to freedom, and not one lost. She once said, “I never ran my train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.”

She commanded influence and respect because of her conviction, dedication, and commitment to others.

Maxwell’s point of this chapter is, “{Tubman} lived in a culture that didn’t respect African-Americans. And she labored in a country where women didn’t have the right to vote yet. Depsite her circumstances, she became an incredible leader. The reason is simple: People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves.”

Many years ago I was in a conducting seminar that was sponsored by the League of American Orchestras (nee American Symphony Orchestra League). One of the guest teacher-conductors was Kirk Trevor, who said to us in a masterclass, “The conductor must be the best musician in the room.” At the age of 24 I wasn’t sure what to make of that statement. Now, much more “seasoned,” I can see multiple sides of it.  Being the “best musician in the room” certainly affords the conductor a certain amount of respect, but is that all a conductor needs to gain the respect of their ensemble? Perhaps not. 

Musicians in an ensemble want, at minimum, these basic things:

  1. A leader with high musical standards and expectations, for himself/herself and the ensemble
  2. A leader who respects the musicians’ capabilities and efforts
  3. A leader who respects the musicians’ time through his/her organizational skills
  4. A leader who cares about the ensemble’s welfare, not just his/her own experience
  5. A leader who sees the “big picture” about everyone’s contribution to the ensemble – both musical personnel and administrative
  6. A leader who designs a season and concert experience with a positive outcome for the ensemble at the forefront of his/her mind
  7. A leader who is pleasant and professional. People want to show up to work everyday with people they like. (There are known exceptions to this rule, but do you really want to try to be the exception?)

Maxwell discusses leadership further. “Someone who is an 8 in leadership (on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the strongest) doesn’t go out and look for a 6 to follow – he naturally follows a 9 or 10. The less skilled follow the more highly skilled and gifted. Occasionally, a strong leader may choose to follow someone weaker than himself. But when that happens, it’s for a reason.” Furthermore, Maxwell points out that when a room full of people get together, watch how the group interacts. People will naturally line up behind the strongest leader (at least metaphorically).

Maxwell closes the chapter with a few sports stories of leadership, Coach John Wooden (a conductorsblog favorite) being among them. This is an interesting chapter regarding the Law of Respect.  Next installment: The Law of Intuition.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2011 4:32 pm

    Good points all. However, Maxwell’s laws often do not follow our business.

  2. September 13, 2011 11:51 pm

    Reading what you wrote… do you mean orchestral conductors don’t often follow Maxwell’s laws? Because I agree with you there.

    Thanks for commenting!

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