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Benjamin Zander e ‘The Art of Possibility’

Put a CEO and an orchestra conductor into a room together, and the two will have more in common than they might imagine.

The CEO faces management challenges, sure. But the average conductor presides over a notoriously unhappy, professionally frustrated group of people every day — orchestra musicians, who in a landmark 1996 Harvard study were found to be less satisfied with their jobs than were federal prison guards. Contrast this with the group of workers at the top of the study’s job-satisfaction scale: string quartet musicians. The players in this smaller performing group ranked the highest in job contentedness and professional growth.

For Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO) conductor Benjamin Zander, the reason for the disconnect between the outlooks of orchestra musicians and those in small string quartets has to do with leadership. A string quartet is a cooperative group; an orchestra is led by a conductor. “Conducting is the last bastion of totalitarianism,” he noted in a keynote address at the 14th Annual Wharton Leadership Conference. Orchestra musicians are not permitted to speak to the conductor. If they do, it must be in the form of a question. A string quartet is composed of four autonomous musicians, each with power to influence group decisions. It’s clear which paradigm leads to happier, more successful artists.

Zander is a different kind of conductor

His job, as he sees it, is to inspire the musicians under his direction and “remind people why they went into music in the first place” — not to command them. For Zander, the BPO’s musicians dwell in a world of possibility, not a world of limitations. This same world of possibility, Zander said, can also inspire business leaders.

Zander has not always used his leadership style. For many years, he ran his orchestra in the old “dictatorship mode.” In fact, he said, he ran his life this way. For a long time, it worked.

When Zander he and his second wife, therapist Rosamund Zander, separated, Zander did some soul-searching and awakened to a new paradigm. Instead of a downward spiral of thinking, he turned to what he calls the art of possibility. He and Rosamund remained partners. Their relationship evolved into a creative partnership — and together they wrote a book about the nature of transformation titled, The Art of Possibility.

Zander decided to focus on his contribution to the world, not just his achievements. “Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side,” he wrote in The Art of Possibility. “It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, ‘Is it enough?’ and the even more fearful question, ‘Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?’ could both be replaced by the joyful question, ‘How will I be a contribution today?'”

Since then, Zander’s musical, teaching and lecturing practices have been devoted to inspiring others to achieve. Today, Zander enjoys an international reputation as a guest conductor.

The message about possibility is one that CEOs and world leaders have taken seriously. Organizations as disparate as McKinsey, Accenture, Pfizer, Disney and the U.S. Army have brought him in to lecture on leadership. He has spoken four times at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Recently in Davos, he was presented with the Crystal Award for “outstanding contributions in the arts and international relations.” The Art of Possibility has been translated into sixteen languages.

Possibilities and Problem Solving

Speaking on leadership and problem solving, Zander emphasized that everyone has options. “You can face problems with resignation, anger or possibility. These are all valid responses. You have a choice.” Choosing possibility isn’t always easy, he noted, but it will lead to excellence. It will also lead to a challenging of assumptions — and assumptions are often roadblocks to innovation.

“Everybody wants out of the box thinking; the question is, how do you get it?” said Zander. “It’s very simple. You ask a question: What assumptions am I making that I don’t know I’m making?” The key to success inside an organization, he added, has to do with voicing these assumptions. “Every organization, every human endeavor, has to have someone whose job it is to notice what assumptions are being made … and [who] has permission to say so. Anybody from the bottom to the top should be able to speak about assumptions without fearing loss of any kind.”

When Zander’s musicians make a mistake, he teaches them not to give in to the voice of doubt or self-recrimination. Instead, he has instructed his students to say “How fascinating!” whenever they make a mistake. To Zander, this means throwing up one’s arms and exclaiming “How fascinating!” at top volume. His point: Every setback is an opportunity to learn. Every setback represents a world of possibility. “Education is not so much about the transference of information as the opening up of new categories,” Zander noted. “When you are educated in that sense, you are actually walking in a different world. The question becomes, ‘What are you going to do now?'”

Publicado originalmente em Knowledge@Whaton:

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