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  • markmccuen


A Director?

Or a Conductor?

What is a leader?

Someone who leads others?

I often wonder if our bosses possess specific qualities that are requirements for the job. Who appoints them? Is it other leaders, or do they appoint themselves?

Would it surprise you to know that a synonym for the word leader is conduit? I always thought a conduit was just a channel or pipe that carries something from point A to point B Or, like a river that serves as a conduit of water, channeling it from mountain streams to the ocean. By that definition, isn’t a river a leader of water?

In my career, most leaders were self-defined. Meaning that someone would typically declare themselves the head of whatever situation they deemed needed to be led. Most would ensure they had captured followers through draconian edicts, rules, and compensation plans.

So many times, bosses would implement plans that guaranteed their success, position, and victory. They had little or no regard as to whether the plans would help those in their charge to become prosperous.

In my career, I realized that if we help enough people prosper, it ensures our success as well. By focusing on others, they will focus on others too. “A rising tide lifts ALL boats.”

In contrast, when we concentrate on only our success, those in our charge will do the same. It is this self-serving confusion and chaos emanating out of selfish thinking that ultimately sinks ALL ships.

We see leaders serving as conduits all the time. We call them conductors. You know, those people who stand in front of an orchestra waving a wand around like the music wouldn’t exist without them. Have you ever wondered what the orchestra would sound like if they weren’t there?

As the first seventh-grade trombonists in our “all city” orchestra (ACO) this thought occurred to me a lot. Mr. Franklin was our conductor. He had a thin, wooden wand and a deep love for music. Thinking back to those days helped me clarify my questions about conduits, conductors, directors, and leaders.

Mr. Franklin was about 6-foot-5 with gray streaks in his sandy hair. From my first day in the orchestra, it was clear that he cared about each musician. All were handpicked by Mr. Franklin, and he worked hard to make sure that the ACO was the best in the state. It wasn’t unusual to see Mr. Franklin stop the entire orchestra while he would sit with musicians until they understood their part.

During those years, most of us in the orchestra were still taking private lessons in school during the week. If nothing else, it was a great way to avoid class.

Several times during my year in ACO, my lesson teacher would tell me he had talked with Mr. Franklin and that he would like me to work on this or that. At the time, it was annoying, thinking Mr. Franklin was checking up on me.

In retrospect, it is clear to me that Mr. Franklin was a true conduit. A conductor. His leadership style was to make sure all musicians were a success in their role, ensuring the success of the entire orchestra.

In contrast, during my last years in elementary school our orchestra was led by Mrs. Cowels. A big lady in her mid-fifties with gray hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Mrs. Cowels had a thin, wooden stick of her own. Instead of waving it in the air, however, she would incessantly tap her stick on her music stand to get our attention, often yelling “McCUEN!!!” while glaring at me over the top of her glasses.

Unlike Mr. Franklin, Mrs. Cowels was a director. She worked hard to direct all of us to deliver HER vision instead of nurturing the players to be their best. Mrs. Cowles would scold players for not hitting HER marks. She had a clear vision of what she wanted, and used every discipline, threat, and glare to ensure HER success.

So, there you have it. Two people serving as leaders in the same job. A conductor and a director. Do they remind you of anyone in your life? Would you prefer to be conducted to be the best you can be? Or, would you rather be directed to hit the marks, ensuring someone else’s success?

Looking in the mirror, what do you see?

A conductor or a director?


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