Leading from Any Chair in the Organization

Earlier this year, I wrote about the importance of making sure that everyone in an organization understands their role and feels some ownership and pride in what a company does, or produces. For some reason, this posting has remained quietly popular throughout the course of the year.  With very little fanfare, it has continued to draw interest week in and week out from people who come upon it through online searching. I wanted to revisit the concepts in that article one more time before we close out the year. 

The article focused on a concept that Ben Zander, the highly regarded conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra shared with our company a couple of years ago. Ben had spoken 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 in his own orchestra who was disappointed when she found herself ranked as the 11th cellist among the twelve seats available.  It was the kind of position where it would be easy to get lost and feel insignificant.  Zander knew it was important not to let that happen and so he made a special effort to reach out to this woman. At Ben’s urging, she eventually volunteered an idea of how to play a certain section of a symphony the orchestra was scheduled to perform. 

“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. 

Would that type of attitude be helpful in your organization?  Is your company encouraging people to seek out and lead from their position in the company?  If not, you’re missing a great opportunity for innovation, alignment, and passion.  No matter where we sit in the organization, we all have an opportunity to contribute.

6 thoughts on “Leading from Any Chair in the Organization

  1. Pingback: The Table Inc. » Blog Archive » Leading from any Chair in the Organization

  2. So, to motivate employees we have to suggest them that they are leaders too. Get real! People are smarter then that! People hate this kind of management tricks, they want leaders who inspire by example.

    • You’ll never make a difference Niels F.C. Willems if you don’t allow others with wisdom and tried methods to influence you. I’m glad I don’t work for you.

  3. This story is a good aphorism of that, how an organization culture should be created. But often the top management means to handle in this way, but the reality is another one. In such cases the live realized behaviour is different from the explicit declared theory (see Agyris). It’s often difficult to explain this fact some CEO’s.
    sincerely, Josef

  4. Every member of an organization has not only the opportunity but the duty to participate. Nevertheless it is a major task of management to communicate that contribution from each single postion matters and has an impact on individuals’ performance and the total result.

    Membership in an organization demands participation. The quality of contribution however depends on the level of leadership.

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