Leadership Lessons from Music

A powerful combination that delivers in all situations

Have you ever wondered how leadership and music can be combined to overcome any challenge, personal or professional? As a business owner and amateur musician I can tell you the power of experiencing and applying the lessons from music to leadership situations:

  • Highly motivated teams
  • Clear, shared objectives
  • Consciousness and responsibility
  • Self-discipline
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Empathy and mutual support
  • Co-operation across diversity

…among others. Teams displaying these characteristics will always be more successful and better able to deal with difficulties and the constantly changing environment in which they are operating, as you know instinctively. My passion is to help with the “how”! 

As the (aspiring?) head of an organisation, business, community or project – or indeed your family! – you know the challenges associated with being responsible for a group of people who are often very different, each with their own personality, motivation and objectives and sometimes from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. Perhaps you are looking for new ways to deal with the challenges of leadership and music has emerged as a possible catalyst for change – in which case, congratulations! You have found one of THE most powerful ways of accomplishing your goals. 

So how do musicians work so well together?

Musicians instinctively work together in perfect harmony, inspired by a common purpose and guided, rather than force-fed by their leader; even the name of this leader is a metaphor for how best to work with your team – “conductor”. Allow me to briefly indulge my love of languages to illustrate this point: the word conductor comes from the latin “ducare” (also the root of the word educate), meaning to lead, guide or “draw out” and “con”, meaning with.


I like to explain the roots of words as so many words have lost their original meaning in today’s world, they are misused and misinterpreted. And yet words are fundamental to communication and unconscious use of them can lead to at best unexpected reactions or results and at worst complete misunderstanding and breakdown in communications.

As Mark Twain, the American author and humorist, said, “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightening and the lightening bug.” This remains one of my favourite quotes on language and word choice.

The key word here is with. A conductor sets the overall direction, mood and pace of the music and works with the musicians to achieve the best results using the instruments and skills available. He draws out their expert knowledge to work towards his vision, his interpretation of the composer’s original vision for the piece. After all, as specialists they know their instruments better and on a deeper level than he does – even more so with a singer’s voice, of course.

Your team is your orchestra!

The metaphor for business and organisations generally is clear. A good leader, as a good conductor, sets the vision and objectives and knows how to use the skills and experience of her team to achieve them, spotting and drawing out abilities that as individuals we often cannot see.


This point highlights the desirability of leaders, too, to have a mentor or coach to help us see ourselves as others do, to bring out the best in us and develop our weaknesses – almost every successful entrepreneur uses a coach.

Knowing intimately the capabilities of their orchestras, conductors are realistic about the works they will take on together, the goals and performance expectations. Similarly, a leader knows the goals she sets must be realistic. When following a strategic management process, we first state our idea of the goal, then review our available resources, both internal and external, the environment in which we are operating and, as we argue over on Applied-Corporate-Governance.com, what our stakeholders think of the goal. If there are factors that would prevent us from achieving them we either acquire new resources or change our goal.

This page is very much a work in progress: I have so much to say about leadership and music and the lessons they can learn from each other (not just leaders from music but musicians from leadership and strategic planning!) but I have to get the rest of the site developed. So keep checking back to this page, which will develop into the core of this website, the culmination of my quest to combine the two things that I am most passionate about: leadership and music!