The CEO’s Main Task

Dr Anthony Howard

February 18, 2020

Some years ago I had the privilege of hosting a conversation between a group of leaders and Benjamin Zander, the famous conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. Lunch very quickly turned into a musical event as Ben had a dozen CEOs clapping, tapping, stomping and making music together. We in some small way became an orchestra.

A symphony orchestra provides a powerful metaphor for the essential skills of leadership. When everyone is playing in harmony a musical performance can be emotionally overwhelming, transporting you to an entirely different place.

What, then, is the role of a conductor, when everyone is an expert? They know their instruments, the music, and their colleagues. However in a conductor, they are not looking for technical capability – they are looking for leadership. The conductor brings the musicians into harmony with one another, not simply keeping the cadence, but creating the emotional engagement between the players, and the audience. Through his or her leadership, the conductor brings out the beauty in the music, and connects it to the yearning in the human heart for beauty, closing the space between one another and creating ‘one body’ caught up in the music.

Metaphorically, the same can be said of a CEO.

Creating harmony between a diverse group of individuals is a perennial leadership challenge. Everyone has their own ‘instrument’ to play, their own understanding of the way things should be done, their own objectives which differ subtly from what other’s seek to achieve. Bringing order out of chaos, and creating a united team that acts as one – while each is doing their own thing – is one of the hallmarks of a great leader.

CEOs almost always have very successful, very driven people working with them. Each of those brings their own personality, biases, values, ambitions and interests. Each has responsibility for different products, lines of business, geographies and varying functionality. The combination of these factors means that people – and usually good people – compete with one another for time, resources, attention, space. Despite any notion of being an orchestra, the reality can often devolve into a trading pit, where everyone is trying to outbid everyone else.

Hence, one of the CEO’s main tasks is not simply to stop their executives from working against each other but to help them set aside their ego and work in harmony for the overall good of the business.

While I have no doubt egos exist in orchestras, it is quite evident that these are put aside when they step up to perform for the audience. This is the challenge for executives – to take responsibility for serving the purpose for which the organisation exists.

The challenge for the CEO is to get everyone clapping, tapping, stomping and singing in harmony – and if we can help you with that, please get in touch. We love the idea of helping senior teams work harmoniously together for some greater good.

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About the Author

Dr. Anthony Howard

Dr Anthony Howard is a CEO, entrepreneur, thought leader, philosopher, and author who focuses his energies on helping high level leaders excel in their leadership. People started calling him ‘the CEO Whisperer’ over a decade ago, as they recognised his uncommon insights about people in complex challenging leadership roles, combined with an understanding of the true nature of leadership, and how it impacts communities and corporations.

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