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Getting Down with the Beat - Finding Your Rhythm at Work

July, 2018

“Rimjhim gire sawan, sulag sulag jaaye man, bheege aaj is mausam me, lagi kaisi ye agan,” is playing on the radio as I travel to work. What a perfect song for this weather; R. D. Burman really knew how to make emotions take flight. Even today, this tune takes me back 30 years, to simpler times. Music is such a charm, isn’t it? 

I’ve always been rather intrigued by the way music can resonate with your soul. It’s so much more effective than words to connect people from various backgrounds. In my pursuit of understanding it better, I’ve come across a few studies that try to uncover the correlation between sound and the associations the human mind makes basis various intonations and tunes. It’s as though the mind has been innately trained to respond to musical stimuli in an orchestrated pattern. 

One of such studies by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), highlighted the fascinating relation between music and colour, where participants, were asked to choose colours most/least consistent with 18 selections of classical orchestral music. The similarities of the hues they chose were astonishing! Another study, this time in the field of medicine, evaluated the therapeutic effect of music on the body’s Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and how musical interventions can help impact physiological, emotional, and cognitive health – they reckon there is most certainly a connection! 

But what I’m really getting at today, is something more personal – how we as leaders (or even just professionals) can draw parallels from music to try and find our own rhythm at work. Think about it, when you hear a song, it instantly connects you to an emotion or memory – what if you could inspire people in the same way? 

There’s much to gather here if you’ve ever attended any musical concert, more so if you observe an orchestra. The symphony is created by so many different instruments, all playing in accord – and a conductor who’s orchestrating it. As a leader, imagine yourself as the conductor, guiding your teams to play as you desire. If all the players in the band just followed their own tune – it’s sure to be a cacophony! As a leader, the direction is yours to own. Every company has a vision, but it’s your job to have people work towards this common vision. 

Itay Talgam, conductor and leadership expert, articulated leadership nuances so well in his TED session a while ago, highlighting different temperaments of several renowned music conductors who all had varied ways of leading their band of musicians. Each of the conductors he referred to had a unique method to get their musicians synchronized; some exerted strict authority, while others were more inclusive and allowed the musicians to go with the flow. The common thread - their passion and astute understanding of the score, that let them correct any tone that wasn’t in sync. This is the way leadership essentially works, it’s knowing exactly when to step in and how to get your band in tune - sometimes through tough love, sometimes through a feather touch, sometimes by cajoling and sometimes by dictating. 

I also remember attending an event where we had a series of presentations by managers on some amazing work their teams had done. One of them stood out, albeit, not in a good way. He kept on waxing eloquent about how he made all the difference by spotting a new trend and capitalizing on it to build profits, but he didn’t make the slightest reference to the efforts of his teammates. The frustration was quite visible on their faces, as they stood onstage alongside him. Team work will always take you farther than you’d ever reach as an individual. It’s the collaboration that brings the music to life - much like any great work! 

Another oft-overlooked aspect is how each band has its own character – a potent mix of the individuals that make up the band. And while you might think that this requires everyone in the band to be a rock-star; it’s quite the opposite. Creating harmony requires a deeper attention to detail and the members need to complement each other – not just in skills but also in temperament and resolve. Here’s where we as leaders need to move beyond what’s on their resume, and really invest time to evaluate the people we welcome into our fold and see how they fit in. Some will be trumpeters and some the ‘rockstar’ drummers. And there will be some who add to that soothing interlude of the flute in the background music through the steady strains of the tanpura. 

Last but not the least, music is all about getting the timing right; so is any business. You can have it all figured out, but if the timing isn’t right, the effort doesn’t bear fruit. It’s like making your customers wait for the cake, when all they’re interested in is buying bread – completely off cue. Jazz music demonstrates this best. If you listen carefully, you’ll realize that there aren’t any wrong notes, just notes played at the wrong time. And such is the case with business or life!