Deb Sofield


A man who wants to lead the orchestra

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“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” ~ Max Lucado

I have always loved this quote and I believe it, because I see so many people in leadership who spend a lot of time wanting to be “in the crowd” instead of leading the crowd. No doubt it is hard to turn our backs to the cheering crowd–it seems so fun to be in the middle of it all, but a man (or woman) who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.

Why? Because leadership is strengthened when a few willing and wise members who are under the guidance of a great leader will learn, watch and grow and then produce other great leaders. To use a line from a quote by Jack Welch, “When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Not to get caught up in the current political debates going on right now, but it seems that those who keep reaching to find and slice and dice special interest groups are wasting a lot of time by not speaking directly to the needs of the nation as a whole. Instead of leading, I see so many of them wanting to be liked by this and that fickle segment of the population, and by swinging wildly from one side to the other, we’re not seeing true leadership, not because they can’t do the job well, but because they want to be liked more than they are willing to lead.

Without a doubt, we are seeing what problems manifest themselves when a man (or woman) who wants to lead the orchestra does not turn his back on the chattering crowd.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart–it takes work to develop the inward core of values that we choose to reflect and aspire to and then, by our actions, to have reflected in our lives.

The problem is, when that initial work is not done in the life of a person who wants to be a leader, one day when they look back, they will see that no one is following them and, frankly, if no one is following, then I have to ask if they are a leader…or are they a self-absorbed person with visions of grandeur? I know it sounds harsh, but the truth is that without followers you’re not leading anyone.

This dilemma is not just limited to politics, I see it in business and non-profit organizations; unfortunately, in the end, everyone ends up wrecked on the rocks because very few have the knowledge, organization and financial mind to step up to the plate and set a direction and lead.

Of course we all want to be liked, but liking someone is a feeling that can just as easily disappear when the next shiny object takes its place, and, if that is the case, that’s not leadership but followership of the crowd, and when the crowd goes in the wrong direction, by sheer force, the one who wanted to lead will be swept away into the middle of the crowd and lose their standing. Unfortunately we see it all the time.

When you believe you have the heart, ability and strength of leadership, then put a stake in the ground and move in the right direction for the good of your organization instead of waiting to test the winds of change for your next step. Leadership moves forward; even a slow step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction.

I admit I love to watch “Undercover Bosses”– it is my guilty waste-of-time pleasure, and I’m often surprised how clueless the boss is when he or she realizes the values that they started their business with are nowhere to be seen by the employees that have been hired. Why? Because in the everyday drudgery and hard work of building a corporation, a few people in the orchestra decided it was better to be liked than lead, and then it doesn’t take long for a few misfits to undercut the company’s culture because of crowd rule.

True leadership sets a strong direction for others to see and follow and that requires that they explain their vision to the team so everyone can see the end game and not grow weary in the journey, because weariness causes confusion, and confusion makes mistakes.

Recently I was on a speaking tour and sitting in a hotel room catching up on my watching of “Undercover Bosses,” and one of the episodes got me thinking about how the simple rules of leadership can build or wreck a company.

In one episode I watched, three things were very apparent: the boss was fair, he was honest and he was a strong leader, expecting his team to have his and the company’s values and act and live by them daily. He allowed his company to hire a few employees who, due to minor convictions, would have been kept out of most companies because of hiring policies. He and his team were willing to take a chance on these few employees. One thing he found was this, those who were given a chance all knew the rules of the company and of his personal leadership, and they considered him to be their leader in addition to their immediate boss because they trusted the company.

When he was working in the field with the employees, he was so taken by the loyalty they showed that he broke down in tears and not just tears of joy, but of understanding that these grateful employees turned their back on the crowd they once hung out with. They were given a chance by a man and his company whose orchestra they wanted to be in because they trusted his leadership.

Friend, how about you? Whether you own the company or not, what I want to know is this. Do others trust you enough to follow your leadership, do they trust you enough to turn from the crowd and leave what they have known to follow you? Have you, as the orchestra director, spent time in developing leaders who will, after you’re gone, be able to command the respect and loyalty of others that they are currently showing to you?

Or are you like everyone else, wasting valuable time by chasing the crowd and spending your time running to the front of the parade because that looks like leading, but the truth is that it is trickery because they are taking that parade route with or without you.

When I think about the theme for today, A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd, I am reminded that I have spoken on this topic before, and the reason I keep coming back to this theme of leadership is that as lonely and hard and life-changing as true leadership is… just imagine how great it would be if one good soul would step up and take the reins to corral the crowd and lead them to, not only safety, but also to success. That is a rare person, indeed, these days. A rare and needed person for this generation who are desperate for an honest, kind, fair leader they can follow safely and successfully.

My curiosity got the best of me and I looked to Wikipedia to tell me about the orchestra. Did you know that a “smaller-sized orchestra of about fifty musicians or fewer is called a chamber orchestra. A full-size orchestra has between 70-100 musicians and they are sometimes called a symphony orchestra or philharmonic orchestra. Orchestras are usually led by a conductor who directs the performance by way of visible gestures. The conductor unifies the orchestra, sets the tempo and shapes the sound.”Wikipedia

Now what I find interesting about the relatively small number of musicians in an orchestra is how a few people on a stage under the direction of a great conductor can bring thousands to their feet in applause and appreciation.

Just think what you could do if you focused on the orchestra of your company or network or your friends. By your life, your personal leadership standards, and I’ll add, your principles, you can unify, set and shape the outcome for a positive ending. But that will only happen when you turn your back on the crowd and lead.

Deb Sofield

Deb Sofield is a Keynote Speaker, Author of the book, Speak without Fear – Rock Star Presentation Skills to get People to Hear What You Say and Encouragement For Your Life ~ Tough Love Memos to Help You Fight Your Battles and Change the World, Radio Talk Show Host in the Salem Network, Podcaster and President of her own Executive Speech Coaching Co., which trains women and men for success in speaking, crisis communications, presentation skills, media and message development in the U.S. and abroad.

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