ago, a now renowned orchestra leader,
just starting out as an assistant, experienced
a defining moment that would shape his
future. He was rehearsing the Cleveland
Orchestra in a Chopin piano concerto.
He recalls, "An oboe solo went over
me like some kind of tidal wave. I thought,
Nothing could make that any more
beautiful.' And it came straight from
the oboist. It wasn't because I did something."
He had hit upon a powerful
principle of conducting that would come
to inform his style; and in reading about
it, I realized it's also a powerful, though
seldom realized, leadership
principle to inform your career.
It's a principle that if manifested daily
will make you a dramatically more effective
leader. And it's a principle that calls
for the end of leadership as it has been
The principle is: The best results
come not from what you make happen but
from what you LET happen.
It might seem like a simple, if not simplistic,
concept. Why is it so important and why
does it call for something as seemingly
presumptuous as the end of leadership?
Let's first look at the word and concept
of leadership. "Leadership"
comes from an old Norse word meaning "To
make go." The trouble is, people
misunderstand who makes what go.
The orthodox view of leadership is that
the leader makes things go by directing
people and resources towards certain goals.
But within the context of this principle,
this view misses what great leadership
Having consulted for several decades with
leaders of all ranks and functions in
companies world wide, I've seen what
great things can happen when the leader
lets them happen.
In a recent interview, the conductor noted
that conductors can control a performance
only up to a certain point, and they go
wrong if they want to control it further.
He says: "You have to leave room
for the possibility that geniuses in the
orchestra will bring you things you can't
teach them. In rehearsal, I try to leave
it short of tacking it down, because if
it is tacked down, you can hear that all
the way through. You can hear the conductor
say, Do it this way.' And I don't
want that. I want to feel they absorbed
it, and they play it to you as if they
were a large chamber group. And when they
get near that, it seems like a success
To take this principle into your daily
activities as a leader, do these three
Change your assumptions.
The conductor, inspired by the oboist,
changed his fundamental assumptions on
how to bring out the best in an orchestra.
So you as a leader, to adhere to the principle,
should change your assumptions on how
you relate to people to get results. Your
trust in their abilities trumps your abilities
in almost all cases.
Abraham Lincoln described this truth in
another way: "You cannot build character
and courage by taking away a man's independence
I'm not talking about a simple change
in mind set; to achieve
great results by letting things happen,
you should undergo a transformation of
your consciousness so broad and deep that
it animates your activities throughout
your career. When you come to understand
that your leadership is not just about
compelling or persuading people to act
in certain ways but helping them bring
out the best in themselves, you'll make
big advances in your effectiveness.
2. Be rigorous.
Just as the conductor had to be working
with highly skilled and disciplined musicians,
you cannot apply this principle to unskilled,
undisciplined people. Bringing out the
best in people by letting things happen
entails, on the part of everyone involved,
work, clear communication, cultivation
skills, and a dedication to practical
For instance, for more than 20 years,
I've been teaching leaders of all ranks
and functions in top companies worldwide
a practical process called the Leadership
Talk. (My website
shows more about it.) The Talk helps leaders
not to order people to do things but have
them want to do things. That want
to' is the pivot point of getting great
results by letting things happen.
3. Be results-oriented.
The conductor understood the performance
wasn't for his ego or the musicians but
for the audience. This is a patently obvious
point, but many leaders, strangely enough,
miss this point. Just like conductors
who are into "tacking it down",
these leaders focus on cementing their
power at the expense of releasing the
greater power inherent in the people they
There is only one reason letting things
happen can truly be a trumpet call for
you to end your commitment
to orthodox leadership: It gets results.
In fact, if the imperative is not helping
you get far more results than ever before,
don't heed the call; stick with the old
Mind you, if you do answer the call, know
that putting an end to orthodoxy may not
happen all at once. The endeavor can be
carried out many times daily for the rest
of your career. You'll often fail.
But keep trying. Fail forward, fail better.
Clearly, this approach is not for every
leader, but when it's fruits become evident,
it may turn out to be a skill most leaders
will endeavor to master. And, by such
mastery, you, like the conductor as a
young assistant, will come to shape your
future through truly beautiful moments
that achieve more results.
::: Read more Brent
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