Your Leadership Style: Newton or Einstein? - Vistage Executive Street Blog

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Your Leadership Style: Newton or Einstein?

Earlier this week, I watched an excerpt from a presentation Itay Talgam gave to an audience of about a thousand people at the Vistage 2013 International Member & Chair Conference held in January.  If you’ve ever watched Itay’s TED Talk, you know that he reviews the leadership styles of several of the world’s top conductors and offers lessons relevant to our own worlds.  So in this particular clip, Itay compares Riccardo Muti with Stale Kleiberg – a conductor who tries to control people and another who creates the environment for his orchestra members to be successful.  As Talgam explains it, the former speaks to a Newtonian, direct approach, while the latter reflects the view that it’s the universe itself that can be flexible if leaders are willing change the conditions.

Talgam illustrates the point beautifully by describing how Kleiberg steps back prior to an oboe solo, signaling to the soloist that the stage is his.  Talgam joking refers to the fact that Kleiberg doesn’t say, “I’m going to the cafeteria, call me when you’re done.”   He stays right there with the musician.  After a brief time, there’s a moment in the solo where the melody is about to make a rather dramatic leap.  While it’s not technically difficult, the objective is to make this leap with a certain elegance.  (Talgam suggests that if he physically jumped on the stage, he would have no problem doing so, but that it would never be achieved with the grace of someone from the New York City Ballet).  So just prior to the moment of truth, Kleiberg makes the subtlest gesture that “changed the gravity in the room.”  He didn’t try to control the player; instead, he created an environment for which the elegance could be achieved.  Yet it’s the oboe player at center stage who receives the accolades.

Talgam says people are autonomous to create; they want to be inventive and proud of their work.  Kleiberg allows for that, never stealing the credit from the orchestra members.  Talgam notes that Muti is great at controlling objects – when water is in a bottle, he can move it.   He goes on to say, “But what about a river?  Something that’s alive and flowing.  Can you control the water?”  One can’t control the water, but one can control the terrain.  You can dig a canal or build a dam, thus changing the conditions so that the water will flow where you want.

So the big question is:  Are you more like Newton? One who seeks to control people. Or more like Einstein?  A leader who creates the conditions that make success possible.  Comments welcome!