Breaking Free

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Vol 3, Issue 11

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Symphonic Leadership
A New Picture of Leadership
October 2007

Definition of Leadership

Leadership is the ability to shape what followers actually want to do. 

What do you think of that definition? Do you think your followers should do what you want them to do simply because you tell them to do that? Well, in our perfect world that is exactly how life would be. However, we live in the ‘real’ world and things don’t always go as we’d like them to go.

I want to tell you about an emerging body of knowledge regarding leadership that is unlike what you may have traditionally contemplated.

In this new approach to leadership, the focus is on the followers! It’s premise is that there is no pre-determined set of characteristics or traits that assure a person is a good or great leader. In this new model, the traits that the leader needs to be successful depends upon the nature of their team.

I call this new approach to leadership “symphonic leadership”. As a conductor, you must understand a variety of components including the musical composition (the goal, structure and process), the individual players, their instruments, and their capabilities (the team, their tools and their talents), and the means of orchestrating all of these elements together to produce the harmonious blend of sounds that will move the souls of the audience (your clients). Conductor

Symphonic Leadership

A symphonic leader is one who is in harmony with the members of the team, intimately aware of the work environment, in tune with their audience, and focused on the goals in front of them. In order to produce the desired end product, the symphonic leader needs to…


  • Successful symphonic leaders take a position among the group. The leader uses the everyday language of the group and does not try to take a position above them. With this approach, there is no set leadership style or personality traits but rather the leader selects the traits they want to project to their followers by better understanding the team they are leading.
  • From within the group, the symphonic leader gathers information about the dynamics of the group. The leaders ASKS a lot of questions and puts their ego aside to better grasp the needs and desires of the group’s members. The leader must sincerely work to understand their team members and see the world through their eyes.The leader must then adopt or create the social identity of the team. Social identities make group behavior possible by enabling the leader to 1) reach consensus on what matters to the team, 2) to coordinate the team’s actions, and 3) to strive toward common goals. Leaders are most effective when their followers see themselves as members of a group where the team’s interests are the same as their own personal interests.
  • The symphonic leaders must not only belong to the team but also embody and exemplify what makes the team distinct and superior to other teams. The best symphonic leaders are prototypical of the group. The leaders who are most effective fully represent the identity of the team and have the most influence over its members.
  • Symphonic leaders are “fair” and that “fairness” is defined by the group. The team respects and willingly follows a leader who is fair in dealing with internal conflict, who refrains from ‘helping themselves’ to the fruit of their team’s labor, and who makes sacrifices for the team. (Please note: In some groups, showing favoritism to your in-group over another group is often seen as being ‘fair’. Being fair does not necessarily mean applying universal laws of behavior but rather understanding what the team you are leading esteems and considers as fair.)
  • Lastly, the symphonic leader is able to clearly define, crystallize and communicate the social identity of the team so that it fits the goals that they must accomplish. This enables the leader to position the vision, goals, policies and plans as expressions of what their team already believes.

Qualities of a Symphonic Leader

Fits in: You must work to understand the values of your followers. You must position yourself among the group rather than above it. Fitting in allows you to gain influence and control over your team.

Fair: You must fairly represent and embody the identity of the group. Your decisions must be in line with the team’s integrity.

Formulates identity and vision: As a symphonic leader, you not only define the vision for your team, you must also make sure that it is realistic. You must work with your team members to ensure that they experience the team’s identity as real.

Facilitates action: By controlling the identity of the team, you can effectively influence the course of the team.


Remember, no matter how skilled you are as a leader, your effectiveness does not lie in your own hands (no matter how much as we’d like to believe that it does.) As a leader, you need your team far more than your team needs you! Did you get that last statement?  You need your team to accomplish your goals, to reach your vision, far more than your team needs you.  As a leader, you a highly dependent upon your followers.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does your team see you as one of them?

  • Is your team bound by a shared identity?

  • Does your team find your vision and your defined social identity as compelling?

  • Does this shared identity serve your team as a blueprint for action? (because nothing is accomplished without action.)

As a leader, it is your responsibility to engage your team in a dialogue regarding their shared identity and goals. You, as an influential and creative leader, must develop a shared social identity that is inspiring to your team. By controlling the definition of their identity, you can effectively influence and lead your team to greatness.

Try symphonic leadership principles today and get in tune with your team!


“Leadership must be based on goodwill. Goodwill does not mean posturing and, least of all, pandering to the mob. It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers. We are tired of leaders we fear, tired of leaders we love, and of tired of leaders who let us take liberties with them. What we need for leaders are men of the heart who are so helpful that they, in effect, do away with the need of their jobs. But leaders like that are never out of a job, never out of followers. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away.”

– Admiral James B. Stockdale

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

-Dwight D. Eisenhower

“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”

– Benjamin Disraeli

“To lead people, walk beside them …
As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence.
The next best, the people honor and praise.
The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate …
When the best leader’s work is done the people say, “We did it ourselves!”

– Lao-tsu

“Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.”

 – Marian Anderson



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