September 21, 2010
That’s not the worst of it. If, by chance, we still managed to get excited about playing the piece, these lesser leaders would actually put a stop to it, either by slowing things down, demanding less volume, or both. I am not kidding.
Why on earth would so many of these ostensibly ambitious conductors work so hard at doing the exact opposite of what would make them successful?
Well, it’s actually pretty obvious. For one thing, they were all doing exactly what they were trained to do. In every organization, be it a school or a company, the default is a hierarchical way of thinking, in which people in lower positions are required to focus their perceptions on people in higher authority, not the other way around.
Further, when it comes to perceptions in general, we actually teach people to limit their perceptions. We place tremendous emphasis on learning the existing body of knowledge and following the rules. Does any school teach students to perceive the infinite potential of every other kid in the classroom? None that I know of. Instead, we teach kids to focus on one figure of authority and be constantly “on guard” for potential bad consequences. Leadership is not about personal achievement, it’s what you inspire others to do, but we have no standardized tests to measure that ability. Instead, we constantly reinforce the goal of self-conscious personal perfectionism as the “smartest” means to success.
Worst of all was the whole issue of control. For these lesser leaders, it was clear that control was their primary objective. Many of them truly believed that if they could gain total control, they would achieve a glorious outcome, but of course it never happened. Others sought to keep things “under control” so as not to risk anything bad happening. Interesting idea, but of course, there’s no risk of anything really good happening either. They needed control because they were, quite simply, afraid of what would happen if they lost it; they assumed, as they had been taught, that bad things would happen. They also needed control as a means of connection; they didn’t know how else to be part of the proceeding. Since they were unable to give up control, they were constantly in a state of frustration. To get top performance, one must give up control, and that was not allowed, so round and round we went.
I used to just shake my head in wonderment at these conductors. Only now am I starting to understand that they all meant well; they were just misguided. After all, like them, most of us go through decades of having every person in authority over us constantly maintaining order and conformity, so when you get to a position of authority, it is only logical that you would act as you have been acted upon, and see your role as that of one more master order-maintainer.
One of the perks of power is that everyone has to fawn over you. What’s the point of having that power if you’re not going to use it? It seems rather silly to give it up and not, at last, indulge yourself and be the center of attention. And yet that is, in essence, what all the great conductors did.
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