Classical music aficionados will recognize the name Gustavo Dudamel, the 28-year-old director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic who has become the craze of the symphony orchestra scene around the world. The May 18th print edition of the Economist carried an insert with a nine-page feature on Mr. Dudamel, documenting the "unbelievable fast track rollercoaster" that has been his career while unbundling the enthusiasm that he holds for everything from his music to his family to his reading.
One of Dudamel's signature moves is to bypass the customary conductor's bow in response to audience applause, and instead leap off of the podium and embed himself within the orchestra. He will put his arm around a couple of the performers and initiate a communal bow to acknowledge the appreciation. I find his explanation for this approach to be insightful and it provides a lesson useful to all leaders:
"The conductor is just a person who is part of the team. Imagine I was just 'conducting' here, now; you would receive nothing. You'd think I was just some crazy guy waving my arms around. The thing is, you need the orchestra. You need them much more than they need you."
I don't know Dudamel well enough to comment whether this is the genuine humble leadership the words suggest or whether it is part of the brand. After all, acknowledging those around you in the context of receiving adulation is part of the culturally appropriate way of responding. I don't doubt that most of those receiving awards at award ceremonies are appreciative of those around them but neither am I convinced that the litanies of names that are squeezed into the two minute acknowledgement speeches are all included due to heart-felt thankfulness. It has become part of the ritual response to an audience's appreciation.
When I read this article in the Economist, I was on my way home following a Cardus board meeting. Dudamel's approach prompted reflection as these meetings are times when the Cardus leadership team provides an accounting of our previous activities. We've had a good run of late, and the colour-coded reports we provide semi-annually to our directors on a variety of metrics speaks to work done well and an organization with the long term in mind. Those of us in leadership positions have been privileged to hear nice words acknowledging our hard work.
As one of those who serves as part of Cardus' leadership, I would like to believe that we do our best to ensure that those who really make the Cardus symphony perform are appropriately acknowledged and appreciated. Our website lists all of our staff. We do our best in the masthead of our publications to include those who contribute in ways not captured in by-lines. But it is the nature of almost every form of work, from symphony conducting to other types of organizational leadership, that we default to personifying the performance of the organization through the identity of the profile leader.
It is a challenge for those of us privileged to be in leadership positions to think of how to authentically acknowledge the important contributions of our orchestras. Not only is it the right thing to do, but failure to do so can also run the risk of sometimes being exposed as the "crazy guy waving [his] arms around" without really knowing how to make the music associated with our names.
So to those reading this and who are appreciative of the work Cardus does, please follow the link to the staff and senior fellows pages and do know that it is all of these people, along with the board of directors and the community of donors and encouragers, through their own unique contributions, that make the work of Cardus possible.