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Micromanaging to Failure

May 29, 2012

by Justin Locke

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Justin Locke

During my time as bass player with the Boston Pops, our renowned conductor, Arthur Fiedler, constantly pushed us to the limit of what was musically possible.  It didn’t work 100% of the time, but his faith in our ability as an orchestra more often than not produced exceptional results.  By contrast, when a guest conductor tried to dictate every detail of a performance, the results were miserable.

Back when I was a teenager, I played in lots of student bands and orchestras, where I quickly got used to the notion of conductors who function a lot like classroom teachers.  Their word was law; you did not argue with them.  They had total authority, and those of us in these ensembles prided ourselves on our complete, eager obedience to the leader.

When I took the leap to playing in a major orchestra, I braced myself to be even more exactingly obedient, as all my training to date had taught me to expect.  I was ready for the conductors to instruct me with agonizing detail.  I envisioned clipboard-toting compliance people standing on either side of me, making sure I played all my notes precisely.

I could not have been more wrong. 

When I started playing in the Boston Pops, I went from the command-and-control culture of student orchestras to something wholly unfamiliar – a “total trust” management paradigm.

On my first day at the Pops, we had four-and-a-half hours to rehearse 10 hours of symphonic repertoire.

Impossible, you say?  I certainly thought so, given that most student orchestras rehearse for months to do a single concert.  But in that major-orchestra environment, management assumed that we knew how to do what needed to be done, and that was all that was said. 

Amazingly, that managerial leap of faith proved justified.  In the brief rehearsal, we played the first and last eight bars of each movement, and we were trusted to take care of the rest on our own.  I was instantly converted from feeling like a passive pawn to being completely responsible.