Companies send their managers to climb mountains, bungee-jump off cliffs or spend time in monasteries to hone their skills. In Berlin, local business leaders met with professional musicians for a seminar on conducting.
Conducting practice for managers with the RIAS Chamber Choir
Gerald Blohmeier is one of five managers who took the plunge.
"I know nothing about music," Blohmeier confessed. "The last time I sang in a choir was back at school, so that's a long, long time ago. And when I saw they were offering a management training method which involved music, I didn't have a clue how that would work."
At the start, it was shaky. Danish conductor Peter Hanke, artistic director of the Center for Arts and Leadership in Copenhagen, coached the businesspeople as they took turns conducting the RIAS Chamber Choir, one of the most prestigious ensembles of its kind, to render a Mendelssohn-score.
"Become a conductor! Explore leadership in another sense!" Hanke told the managers.
Some of the business people faced the singers with their eyes closed. Others waved their arms timidly, not knowing what to expect from the choir. Soon cacophony rang out.
"You're creating a beautiful sound," Hanke encouraged them. "But your decisions are too weak right now."
Under his subtle guidance the music improved with each attempt.
Lear n i n g to liste n
Conductor and composer Peter Hanke
The business world needs inspiring and stimulating personalities in the workplace, but they're rare. For Hanke, a conductor represents the new leader in modern society. In the world of music, it is the conductor's job to absorb the energy and artistic expression of an ensemble and to advance that.
Hanke said the same holds true for leadership positions in business: as a leader, you need to listen very carefully to your employees.
Spot the leader
"You soon realize that success comes from cooperation," said RIAS-soprano Stephanie Petit-Laurent. "It's working together that counts. The singers themselves contribute a lot from their individual experience. But a conductor can mould that. But he can only do that if he's unbiased and let's things happen spontaneously. So there are certain managers about whom a musician thinks: No way! He's stubborn, he's not sensitive. He goes against the flow.
Petit-Laurent said it's easy to spot managers who spark the choir's enthusiasm. Take the first composer-wanna-be: "Musically, he was actually pretty clueless. But he listened to us and he blended in really well. He sensed the ensemble's creativity and he contributed a lot himself."
Manager can learn from the dynamics of conducting
The managers attending the workshop clearly recognized that they should mediate, rather than lead. They should hardly intervene in the work process of a company's team of employees that plays well together. That, at least, is conductor Hanke's perception of working life.
Heighte n ed se n ses
"I don't think this seminar has provided any ground-breaking new answers," said manager Blohmeier. "But it has definitely heightened my sense of perception. … You learn to respect your peer and help him to develop. When you can contribute to this process of unfolding, the music just keeps getting better. And when you apply that to management your results also improve in business."
A conclusion, he said, that would make working life not just more successful -- but also far more pleasant for his entire team.