Itay Talgam on CultureLab
There’s a common misconception about what makes an orchestra electrifying: that it requires musicians to play in absolute harmony. The reality, however, both in music and in business, is that truly extraordinary performances result from the right combination of unity and diversity.
Ensemble performances provide a powerful analogy to how teams operate in the workplace. A symphony orchestra is an example of teamwork, discipline, learning, role clarity, execution and true leadership in action.
And in this interview, Itay Talgam, an Israeli orchestra conductor and disciple of Leonard Bernstein talks about what leaders can learn from the world of music to elevate their team’s performance.
Itay Talgam grew up in Israel. His early cultural influences were extremely diverse and rich. His parents were lawyers, but he grew up surrounded by their bohemian friends, European antiques, Japanese artefacts and a wonderful collection of contemporary Israeli art that his mother curated throughout her lifetime.
In this interview, Itay and I talked about a variety of topics - his first experience with leading a group of people while in Israel Defence Forces, the influence his mentor, Leonard Bernstein had on him and what he learnt about leadership during his career as an orchestra conductor.
Here are my key take-aways from this interview. I hope you find them useful in your search for ways to contribute to a strong and healthy culture in your team or organisation.
Itay’s book title, “The Ignorant Maestro”, has been inspired by a French philosopher, Jacque Ranciere who quotes Joseph Jacotot, a nineteenth-century professor: “An ignorant can teach another ignorant what he does not know himself.”
To me, this is closely aligned with the coaching approach to leadership. Instead of telling people what to do or giving them answers to their questions, we encourage them to come up with their own solutions, interpretations and conclusions.
And what about you? Are you working too hard, trying to give your team members all the information you think they need, answering all their questions every time they arise? What if you could embrace ignorance once in a while and help your team members figure things out on their own for a change?
Adopt the whole person approach
The person who had the biggest influence on Itay was his mentor, Leonard Bernstein. He was the first orchestra conductor to enjoy the celebrity aura of a rock-star. A genius in many areas, Bernstein was incredibly skilled in enabling his musicians to bring and integrate their whole being into music making. He was interested in people’s hobbies, personal lives, their experiences and how these could be integrated into playing. His musicians were much more than just instruments for him. This whole-person approach defined Bernstein’s main mode of communication: a dialogue. And when he focused his attention on someone, that person knew and felt that they had his genuine, unconditional and undivided attention. He gave people the joy of discovery and creativity back. And this is when the magic happened.
So, how well do you know your team members? Do you think that they bring their whole being into the workplace and integrate it their work? How can you encourage that?
Expose and explore gaps
As Itay says: “Gaps occur to us as a sense of incompatibility: Something doesn’t fit (…) A gap will occur when something taken for granted proves not to be the case. In other words, the coherence of one’s worldview is compromised.“ An example of a gap is when two colleagues who need to collaborate on a project have a completely different interpretation of certain aspects of the project plan. According to Itay, gaps like this are often experienced as uncomfortable and therefore usually ignored in the hope that they will somehow disappear. But this is precisely where the powerful potential lies: creativity in all forms of life, from arts to business depends on our ability to recognize and explore gaps. According to Itay, one of the most important functions of leadership is to recognise - and expose - the most potent gaps in the organisation. and for this, we need the next element.
When you think about your team or your organisation, what are the seemingly incompatible areas, what seems not to fit, what doesn’t seem to work? How could you use these gaps to bring about positive change?
Become a key-note listener
Itay uses the term “key-note listener” as the opposite to a “key-note speaker”. In key-note speaking, the agenda is set by speaking, by performing, by doing things to others. In key-note listening, on the other hand, the agenda is set by openness and active participation, by observing and co-creating, by doing things with others. Key-note listener’s focus is on noticing and creating dialogue.
And what would creating an agenda by listening and observing look like in your team? How could you integrate it into your management style?
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