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Could you conduct an orchestra?

By Chris Lodge

How should a manager manage people?

There are people that think if a person is good at say, programming, then they would be just as good at managing people that program. But managing is a different skill.


A lot of new managers will look around them at other managers and pick up what they do. A kind of 'the blind leading the blind' type of learning, where bad habits and poor practices can fester.


To me, a manager is like a conductor of an orchestra.


An orchestra is a collection of people, all with a particular talent, striving towards a common goal; to play a piece of music. The conductor is in charge in so much as they know what they want the music to sound like and the musicians have chosen to follow them.


The conductor instructs the musicians on what the immediate future of the music they are playing will sound like. The music will be fast or slow, loud or soft. This next piece will emphasise the violins, etc. A conductor can’t change the sound of the music in the past, or at that particular second. They can only change what it will sound like in the future. The conductor relies on the musician’s skill in playing their instrument and observing their instructions.


The musicians are a skilled group of people that have specialised in a particular instrument. They have chosen to come together and play under the guidance of this conductor. They watch the conductor and follow their instructions on the future of the music that they are playing. This is how a good performance is produced.


What the conductor will not do is stop the music, go to a particular musician, take the instrument off of them and show them how to play it.


The musician knows how to play. After all, that’s why they are there in the first place. They have the right skills to carry out the task at hand.


The conductor may not even know how to play the instrument or is unable to play it as well as the musician. But that’s of little importance. The conductor knows the music and what it should sound like. That’s where their expertise lies.


The conductor is important, but not vital. If they dropped their baton, the music wouldn’t abruptly stop. The conductor is guiding the musicians, not controlling them. The musicians are skilled enough to carry on playing while the conductor bends down and picks up their baton.


Hire the right people, make sure they want to follow you, tell them the way you want the future to be and let them get on with it.