Leading from any chair in the organization

If you want your organization to move forward during tough times, everyone has to feel some ownership in the process and feel that they can make a difference. I was reminded of that fact when I saw an article about Ben Zander, the highly regarded conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra.  Both Ben and the orchestra celebrated anniversaries last week.  Ben celebrating his 70th birthday and the Boston Philharmonic celebrating its 30th.


Ben had spoken at our company a couple of years ago at our annual Week of Excellence all-company meeting and encouraged all of us to replace “downward spiral thinking” with “possibility thinking” instead.  Ben also cautioned us not to fall into the trap of thinking that leadership is just for those people at the top of the organization.  For an organization to truly move forward together, everyone has to be involved and feel that they play a role.


To illustrate his point, Ben told the story of an accomplished cellist who joined the Boston Philharmonic but who was disappointed when she found herself ranked as the 11th cellist among the twelve seats available.  Still, she persevered and at Ben’s urging, she volunteered an idea of how to play a certain section of a symphony the Boston Philharmonic was scheduled to perform.


The piece was performed the following week to rave reviews.  After the performance, the cellist came up to Zander excitedly and asked, “You played the piece the way I suggested, didn’t you.”  Ben nodded in agreement and saw the woman’s whole attitude change. 


“From then on,” he continued, “this cellist who sat in the 11th seat played like a completely different person.”  Instead of just being technically correct, her playing took on an added dimension that she hadn’t displayed before.  When Ben asked her about this, she explained that ever since that night when she first saw the possibility that she could influence the orchestra from her modest position in the 11th chair, she felt like she had been leading the orchestra every night since then.


But can a person sitting in the 11th chair of your organization really make a difference?  You bet.


I found this out for myself when I talked with a co-worker who said Ben Zander touched her heart and reminded her that each one of us is important to the bigger goal.


“It creates a feeling in me of my worth in the workplace,” she said. “What I like about this idea is that it makes me feel like I might have an idea that would contribute and that I have value to the company,”


Leave a Reply