Have you ever heard Beethoven’s 9th Symphony? If you’re not sure, you’ve probably at least heard ‘Ode to Joy’ which appears in the fourth movement.

Regardless of your familiarity with this brilliant piece of music, there is a video I encourage you to watch if you have six minutes:

In case you’re short on time, to summarize, ‘Ode to Joy’ is played on the streets of Catalunya, Spain in a “flash mob” type of configuration.

Musicians begin playing on their own and more and more are added, but when the conductor steps in front and begins to guide and encourage them, a distinct difference in the music and the musicians’ body language is quite noticeable.

Although the individual musicians sound wonderful without the conductor, if you close your eyes and just listen to the music being played, you’ll know exactly when the orchestra starts being led by the conductor.

The conductor makes that much of a difference.

Orchestras have tried to go it alone, leaving the conductor out of their setup— the most well known of these orchestras is Orpheus.

Julian Fifer, a cellist, began the unusual ensemble in 1972, with the goal of creating extraordinary musical experiences that enrich lives and empower individuals through collaboration, innovation, and a passion for artistic excellence.

The idea was that the musicians must all know the music, including each other’s parts. A certain level of freedom is achieved when the musicians find themselves contributing to the interpretation of the music and interacting more spontaneously during the performances.

…A noble goal indeed.

Orpheus has trademarked this signature mode of operation, the Orpheus Process™, where democracy is placed at the center of artistic execution. In fact, it has been the focus of studies at Harvard and numerous leadership seminars.

You may be wondering how all of this relates to you and your workplace. Well, let’s think about the ‘Orpheus Process’ philosophy for a moment and see whether it can be transitioned into our every day workplace lives.

First off, what would that even look like?

Surely it would be brilliant to work somewhere where the whole point of your existence is to encourage you to be spontaneous, creative, and excel in your craft!

How fantastic would it be if those working around you worked collaboratively with you, and understood your role so well that they knew how your work enhanced their role?

But although the Orpheus Process sounds like a wonderful philosophy for work, let’s remember the importance of the conductor as seen in the flash mob video.

Having a leader that understands that their role is not to be the most important person in the room, but rather to be that person who encourages others to be their very best and authentic self, sounds pretty important to me.

Have you ever worked in a place where this was your experience?

Perhaps it occurred briefly right after the boss had finished reading a new business book on the importance of emotional intelligence or had just surfed the web and accidentally watched a Simon Sinek TED talk, but unfortunately, their behaviour probably reverted back to their default setting soon enough.

Let’s take a look at a more specific example.

The recently released report into the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s (RCMP) handling of Harassment complaints was full of lessons for every organization. However, Section 4, titled ‘Resistance to Change,’ is the one that I want to draw lessons from today.

Two of the concerns, among the many identified by the report’s authors, talked about the following:

  1. The absence of senior leadership
  2. The failure to foster a leadership culture

The report’s recommendation regarding this first issue stated:

The Minister should direct the RCMP to professionalize elements of the RCMP organizational structure by recruiting civilian experts for non-operational roles, including at the senior levels in the areas of human resources and labour relations.

Look at the main focus of this recommendation: How to deal with people and the relationships between them.

It’s not the technical skill-set that is most required of the leader (the conductor), it’s the soft skills that are most critical. However, the report points out that the RCMP (and other similar hierarchical organizations) have not acknowledged, promoted, trained, and educated people with respect to those qualities:

The RCMP continues to assign such positions to senior uniformed members, regardless of their ability to fulfill such functions and duties. Unfortunately, the officers filling such roles often lack the specialized skills and expertise that would be viewed as a fundamental prerequisite in most other organizations…

The report’s recommendation regarding the second issue, the failure to foster a leadership culture, stated:

The RCMP should foster a leadership culture by introducing promotional criteria that recognizes management skills; and by instituting more rigorous, mandatory leadership development programs for all existing and newly appointed supervisors, managers, and executive officers.

Measures to improve leadership within organizations are critical to effect cultural change. Leaders (conductors) play a central role in transmitting and maintaining this organizational culture.

But let’s break down each level of leadership and what their specific role is in this process is:

  • Senior leaders establish organizational strategy, and by example, set the tone and foster acceptance of change in an organization.
  • Mid-level leaders and direct supervisors interpret organizational strategies, policies, and practices, and transmit and reward proper behaviour through promotions and training.
  • Immediate supervisors set the tone for acceptable behaviour and can either condemn or perpetuate negative conduct.

Organizations that do little to support a culture of leadership among its managers, supervisors, and executive officers (and also don’t recognize that leadership skills are distinct from technical skills), face a similar leadership chasm to the RCMP.

But, let’s get back to the point of this discussion in the first place and why, in my opinion, the RCMP needs a conductor—and not just one conductor.

When revisiting Fifer’s original goal with the Orpheus Process (of creating extraordinary musical experiences that enrich lives and empower individuals through collaboration, innovation, and a passion for artistic excellence), I see this culture being achieved, sustained, and developed only when a conductor is present.

But not just any conductor.

Organizations need to develop a culture where everyone is encouraged to become a conductor in their own right— because the role of a conductor is to lead, guide, and mentor others around them.

So it seems that Fifer’s philosophy may function better in our workplace with a conductor— but that’s an environment I would gladly play ‘Ode to Joy’ for.