When people stand in front of a choir or orchestra for the first time and try to conduct, they often put in far too much effort.

The result of all of this energetic arm waving? In many cases, hardly anything, at least in terms of getting the orchestra to do anything. All that work and energy put in, and relatively little to show for it.

Much more subtle guidance is required to really support an orchestra in performing well. If the conductor puts in too much it leaves far too little space in which the people playing can respond. The more the heavy lifting from the front, the more those whose contribution counts for so much back off. Paradoxical, perhaps, but more effort from the front does not easily translate into more effort from everyone else.

The same dynamic is at play in many other situations where leadership is called for.

The more you insist that your team cannot be trusted (and that you must be the final arbiter of all quality, checking everyone’s output for appropriateness and correctness) the less room people have to step forward. After all, while you’re doing all the work (and doubting the quality of their contribution at every step) how much does anyone feel really welcome to bring themselves?

It’s incredibly difficult for people to be trustworthy unless they’re trusted. And incredibly difficult for them to contribute unless there is space for their contribution.

Just like the over-energetic conductor, your strenuous efforts to stay in control are most probably producing exactly the situation you’re trying so desperately to avoid.

Hard as it is to learn, because it feels like everything is at stake, it’s your job to coordinate with cues subtle and clear and spacious enough that everyone can step forward and bring themselves.

Only by letting go of what you are most attached to can you give others the chance of being the performers you’re so longing them to be.

Photo Credit: James Jordan via Compfight cc

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