When You Visualize Success, You Can Achieve Success

Photo by Fortune Live Media

Photo by Fortune Live Media

[Excerpts from this post are taken from Larry’s book, Beyond Peace In Christian Finances: Accelerating Past Average With Your Money Plan]

Sara Blakley and Spanx

Sara Blakely may not be a familiar name in the average American home. Some of the products she has created for women, though, would be recognized through her company called Spanx. As a young woman, Sara pursued several different business opportunities that were not working out for her. Before starting her own company, she was selling fax machines door to door. Sara recalls that this time in her career was a great learning experience for her. She learned how to handle rejection through hearing lots of “no’s.” She also learned how to get to a “yes” as well. The art of the sale was a valuable lesson she learned as she finally launched her own company. She also learned another valuable lesson—visualizing becoming successful.

Photo by Mike Mozart

Photo by Mike Mozart

Blakey says she could see her business succeeding from the beginning. She visualized herself being the successful owner of Spanx. Blakely says, “I believe you can take mental snapshots of your future and what success looks like to you. If you mentally see yourself in a scenario, you’ll start to make decisions in your life that get you there.”

Sara Blakely thinks differently than most people. As a result, Forbes Magazine has recognized her as the youngest self-made female billionaire in the world.

Wealthy People Think Differently

Wealthy people think differently at many different levels. I’m not talking about the NBA basketball player who has the $10 million crib with ten expensive cars parked out front, either. One could make the argument that many professional sports athletes handle their money like poor people who have won the lottery. But, I digress.

Photo by Emma Lopez

Photo by Emma Lopez

When I mention wealthy people, I’m talking about people who have learned to generate income through the purchase of assets and not liabilities. This is the classic Robert Kiyosaki definition that he outlines in his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The world has too many people running around today who appear wealthy. If one dug down into their finances, though, they would find they are actually quite poor. They have too many liabilities and not enough assets that generate income for their families.

Wealthy People Ask Questions

Rich thinking doesn’t mean driving a hoopty and living in a double-wide trailer while being the rental house king in our respective city with thousands of dollars in savings and investments. But before signing up for a book of payments on a $40,000 SUV or buying a $750,000 mortgage for the most expensive house in a great neighborhood, many questions should be asked. Wealthy people ask themselves money questions, such as:

  • Am I buying assets or liabilities?
  • Is this the best use of my money right now?
  • Is there a better place or better opportunity to leverage my money?
  • Do I need this particular item right now?
  • Is this a true need or a want?
  • What is the wisest thing I could do with this money, today?

For the Christian who is attempting to live according to these principles, this adds another layer of spiritual thinking. Additional questions could include:

  • Would God be pleased with this purchase? Why or why not?
  • Will this purchase impact my level of giving in the future?
  • Have I prayed about this purchase, or am I engaged in a worldly mindset?
  • Is this the absolute best use of God’s money?
  • If I make this purchase, would God be able to say to me, “Well done thou good and faithful servant”? Why or why not?

There are several key differences between the rich and poor concerning financial thinking. Wealthy people process money information, ask themselves a lot of questions, and seek the wise counsel of others they trust. Poor people follow the poor money habits of the majority of people around them. The poor make emotional purchases based on popular opinion and feelings instead of an overriding financial plan.

The information shared in this post can be found in Larry’s book in the Amazon Kindle store: Beyond Peace In Christian Finances: Accelerating Past Average With Your Money Plan

Not Sure Where To Begin? Here’s The Starting Point For Christian Financial Stewardship

Photo by Kelvin Dickinson

Photo by Kelvin Dickinson

Making Plans

People have plans for lots of stuff in this life.

A woman who is about to be married spends hours flipping through wedding magazines, scanning websites, calling florists, and talking to caterers. She has a plan to create the most beautiful wedding known to mankind!

A professional executive in the workplace has a strategic plan and a daily task list. He has a plan to climb the corporate ladder and become a successful CEO one day.

Families often spend weeks planning out their ultimate summer vacation. Since they’re about to spend a lot of money, they want to get the biggest bang for their buck and have a great time.

But, these same people put together a financial plan? Are you kidding me? Nah, they would rather just shoot from the hip and roll the dice. They have thousands of dollars of income flowing into their bank account each month but have no desire to manage what is coming in. That’s too restrictive, constraining, and absolutely zero fun!

So, why do people spend so much time planning for special occasions such as weddings, vacations, or work projects but have no desire to put together a financial plan?

Because there is a sense of pressure and expectation for these other events.

A memorable wedding has high expectations all around it. The bride, groom, parents, family, and even close friends all have certain expectations wrapped up in a couple’s wedding ceremony.

A professional executive position has pressure and expectation from the first day he has been hired. This person is under the gun to perform at a high level to achieve success in their career not only for the company they work for, but also to provide for their family.

A big family vacation may only happen one time a year, but the parents and children all want the biggest return for their time and money. Plus, they want to outdo last year’s trip. They are expecting to have the time of their lives.

I find it interesting, though, that most people don’t put themselves under the same kind of pressure and expectation when it comes to money. And, I find it even more interesting that the majority of Christians have the very same mindset as the rest of the world.

But God has high expectations for those who claim the name of Christ to be excellent managers of money.

God and Money

So, why would God have high expectations for me and my financial life?

Because everything you have belongs to God in the first place. Your money, your house, your car, your career, your talents and abilities, your health, your spouse, and your children are all His, not yours. This is the starting point for an understanding of what Christian stewardship is all about.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (Psalm 24:1).

You may be thinking to yourself, “Now, Larry. I worked hard for all I have. I went to college for six years. I climbed the corporate ladder. I amassed all my earthly possessions. I found my spouse and we created children, together.”

Yes, that may all be true, but according to the above verse, God owns everything. And because He owns everything, He is expecting you as a Christian to be an excellent manager of His stuff.

“Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:2).

Even Jesus taught His followers this principle in the Parable of the Bags of Gold in Matthew 25:14-30 (NIV):

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more.  So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

From this parable, we see three servants who had plans for the money that had been entrusted to them by their master. Two of the three got the money plan right. The third servant got it wrong. The two servants who got the money plan right were rewarded. The one who got their plan wrong was punished.

Are You Even At The Starting Point?

In this post, we have seen that there are two parts to the starting point for Biblical finances.

First, you must a have a plan. Having a casual approach to money accomplishes nothing. You have to a vision of what you absolutely need to accomplish with the financial resources you have been entrusted with.

Second (and most importantly), you must acknowledge that God own everything that you have – your time, energy, health, relationships, abilities, and, of course, money. As a child of God, He is expecting you to manage His stuff with excellence.

Question: Do you have a financial plan and have you acknowledged that God is the owner of all He has asked you to manage?

Book Review | The Art of Possibility by Ben and Rosamund Zander

The Art of Possibility BookDiscovering A Book Through A TED Talk

The information within books has the potential power to completely and radically transform your life.

Over the last few years, I can count a handful of books that made a deep impression that has changed my thinking and ultimately my life in amazing, powerful ways.

The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander (note: this is a husband and wife duo) is my latest addition to this list of life-changing books.

I actually discovered Benjamin Zander through his amazing TED video (you have to watch this), visited his personal website, and then ordered his book through the Kindle store on Amazon. Money wisely spent!

Benjamin Zander’s biography reads:

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and a guest conductor around the world. With London’s famed Philharmonia Orchestra, he is recording the complete cycle of Mahler symphonies for Telarc, recordings which have been received with extraordinary critical acclaim and several awards. Their latest recording of Bruckner’s 5th Symphony was nominated for a 2010 Grammy, and has received critical acclaim both for the performance and Zander’s now famous full-length disc explaining the music for the lay listener. They recorded their next release, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, in January 2012 and it is scheduled for release later this year.

In 1967, Mr. Zander joined the faculty at New England Conservatory, where he taught an interpretation class, conducted the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted the conservatory orchestras. For the past 28 years, he was the Artistic Director of the joint program between New England Conservatory’s Preparatory School and The Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.

Mr. Zander is one of the most sought after speakers in the world. He gave the opening Keynote address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where on another occasion he was awarded the Crystal award for “outstanding contributions in the Arts and international relations. In 2002 he was awarded the “Caring Citizen of the Humanities” Award by the International Council for Caring Communities at the United Nations. In honor of his 70th birthday, and 44 years of teaching, he was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the New England Conservatory.

His partner Rosamund Zander and he have collaborated on a best-selling book, “The Art of Possibility” which has been translated into fifteen languages.

Yes, this book has a lot to do with music, orchestras, and conducting.

But, it goes way beyond that. I view this book more as a roadmap to be a successful leader and to live out a life of transformation. Whether you’re a musician or not, you need to read this book. It will turn your life upside down, inside out. The ideas that Ben and Rosamund present here will cause you to rethink your approach to life and relationships.

[PLEASE NOTE: this is not a “Christian,” sanitized book. There is some adult language and themes here and there (especially under Chapter 6: Rule Number 6 and Chapter 7: The Way Things Are). I don’t support or condone the language or subject matter, but I do agree with the primary principles presented here. If you choose to read this book, you will need to keep this mind. You have been warned.]

My 6 Takeaways From The Book The Art Of Possibility

After reading The Art of Possibility, I came away with six actionable concepts that I have already started applying to my life. I’m seeing amazing things happen in my life as a result.

  1. It’s all invented (p. 12). The interpretations of the world vary from person to person, depending on our culture, environment, and upbringing. We all tend to become rigidly attached to certain ways of thinking and specific ways of viewing the world. The Zanders have concluded that “It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.”
  2. Orient your life toward abundance (p. 21). It is very easy for any of us to slip into a poverty or scarcity mindset, thinking that we don’t have enough money or resources to accomplish what we would like. The Zanders encourage us with these words, “you are more likely to extend your business and have a fulfilled life if you have the attitude that there are always new customers out there waiting to be enrolled rather than that money, customers, and ideas are in short supply … resources are more likely to come to you in greater abundance when you are generous and inclusive and engage people in your passion for life. There aren’t any guarantees, of course. When you are oriented to abundance, you care less about being in control, and take more risks.”
  3. Radiate possibility to everyone around you (p. 65). When the people you lead are not everything you envision them to be, who do you blame? Do you blame them, or do you blame yourself? Ben Zander puts forth the question for all of us who are leading others, “Who am I being that they are not shining?” (p. 74). The only person we can truly blame is ourself. We are the leader who is radiating possibility to others. So how do we effectively radiate this universe of possibility? The Zanders believe that “Purpose, commitment, and vision are distinctions that radiate possibility” (p. 179).
  4. Give people an “A” (p. 26, 39). Too many times, we judge people with very little information. If we feel like they have done us wrong one too many times, we put these people on our “naughty” list. The Zanders challenge us to give the grade of an “A” to “anyone in any walk of life – to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team … When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves … This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
  5. Lead from the second chair (p. 41). There is a disease that infects many music ensembles. This problem is sometimes called “second fiddle-itis.” The problem occurs when people perceive their role in a group to be of little significance (second violins for example), mostly due to the fact that many people are duplicating the same part. This is not true of other key positions within an orchestra, such as the primary brass and woodwind roles. They act more as soloists. But, this in no way diminishes the role and importance of the “second part.” Ben Zander tells us the story of Robert Koff, the founding second violinst of the Julliard String Quartet: “I came away convinced that the real leader of the string quartet is the second violin. Not because Koff dominated the rest of us, but because in his part he had all the inner rhythms and harmonies, and he gave them such clarity and authority that we were all tremendously influenced by his playing. He was leading us from the ‘seconds.’”
  6. Rule Number 6: don’t take yourself so seriously! (p. 79-80). The practice of Rule Number 6 is to lighten up, which may lighten up those around us. We can utilize the power of humor to defuse tense and awkward situations. All of us take ourselves way too seriously at certain times and under specific circumstances. When you find yourself getting way too serious and stressed out, just remember Rule Number 6 and observe what happens!

Questions: Have you ever read The Art of Possibility? If so, what were your own takeaways from this amazing book?






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Focus On The Line Of Your Life, Not The Dots

Photo by robinparmar

Photo by robinparmar

Inspired Musical Performance

As a musician, it’s easy for me and other music-types to get hung-up on technique. We try really hard to play the right notes at the right time at the right pitch. We think we have achieved success if we can nail that musical trifecta and then stick the landing!

While technique is vitally important to achieving a successful music performance, we’re definitely missing the boat as musicians if that’s our only concern. The purpose of performing any piece of music is to communicate the intended interpretation of the composer. We need to consider the overall line, shape, musical structure, and phrasing. We need to be more interested in communicating the message of the music rather than playing a technically perfect rendition of the song.

The greatest musicians of all time have been able to detach themselves from their performance technique and communicate the message of the music. They have inspired us with beautiful performances that have transcended the written notes on the page. These musicians passionately touch our lives in amazing ways.

Your Greatest Performance: Living Life

I believe several analogies can be drawn between musical performance and our own life performance.

As with too much focus on musical technique, so too can we get hung up on the proper technique of living our lives. We get focused on the individual points of our lives, instead of connecting these dots into an incredible life line that communicates an amazing message to those around us.

Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about.

When I speak of the “individual points” of our lives, I’m mostly talking about those BIG life events that we think about being able to accomplish: graduating high school, graduating college, establishing your career, getting married, having 2.5 children, getting those children raised, socking enough money in IRA’s to retire, retiring, traveling the world, crawling into the casket, and passing away.

What happens, though, when we get focused on the technique, the main points of our lives?

A number of things can happen. We can lose sight of the big picture of our lives. We can get bogged down in one area (such as finishing college – I know I did!). We can desire the act of marriage so much that we lose sight of our life line and marry the wrong person. We can get so worked up about putting enough money away for retirement that we’re working too hard in a job in which we feel unhappy and unfulfilled.

So, what if we flipped this whole life process around? What if we started living out the line of our lives instead of getting hung up on these individual parts of our lives?

Focus On The Line

The best way to overcome this point-by-point, event-by-event living is to stay focused on the line – your unique path to your ultimate, desired destination.

Stephen Covey called this type of thinking, “Beginning with the end in mind.” This is visionary, possibility thinking.

Have you ever sat down and figured out your life destination, where you intentionally want to end up? In your mind, you may have a general idea, but have you purposely crafted a statement of life intention? Have you created an extraordinary vision that you are running toward each and every day?

Perhaps you desire to live to age 100 and be the reigning patriarch of an amazingly large, Christian family of 5 kids, 15 grandchildren, and 30 great-grandchildren! How amazing would that be?

So, how are you going to get to there? How would you live if this was your desired destination?

I can just about guarantee you won’t get there if you’re out partying each weekend, you and your spouse fight constantly, and your family is an absolute train wreck. In this situation, your daily actions don’t line up with your intended life destination. So you’re going to need to stop and spend a little time on your life technique so your life can play out to its intended conclusion.

Fix Your Technique

Let’s go back to my example above and think through the technique on how to possibly accomplish the following life statement:

“I desire to live to age 100 and be the reigning patriarch of an amazingly large, Christian family of 5 kids, 15 grandchildren, and 30 great-grandchildren!”

  • Part 1: “I desire to live to age 100.” [Personal note: I recognize that our time here on earth is totally in the hands of Almighty God (James 4:14). This is still a vision that we can live toward]. So, does your lifestyle currently support your being able to live a mostly healthy life to age 100? If not, what needs to change today in order for you to live into the possibility of age 100? Do you need to change your diet, start exercising, and get yearly physicals?
  • Part 2: ” … and be the reigning patriarch …” Are you a strong leader in your family? How do treat your spouse and children? Are you a servant leader to your family? What do you need to do, who do you need to become in order to be the respected leader within your immediate and extended family?
  • Part 3: ” … of a an amazingly large, Christian family …” Are you strong in your own walk with Christ? Does your walk match your talk? Are you in the Word and in prayer on a consistent basis? Is weekly church attendance a priority? Can you look your family members in the eyes and say with the confidence of the Apostle Paul, “follow me as I follow the Lord?” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Work on your life technique just like a musician would, but also don’t forget to play the song of your life with everything you’ve got! Have a vision and live toward that vision each day.

Questions: How is your “life song” playing out, today? Are you hung up on performing the right life techniques or are you focused on your life line and ultimate destination? Have you ever crafted a vision of intention for the ultimate destination of your life here on earth?

As we begin a new year, now is a great time to work on the line, the ultimate destination of what you desire to achieve in this life.

Embracing Tension To Live Your Best Life

Photo by Dave77459

Photo by Dave77459

A Life Filled With Tension

You had a horrible night sleep because your baby is really colicky right now. You’re in a bad mood, and you’re about to take it out on the rest of the family, especially your spouse.

You just stepped on to the elliptical machine at the gym. You’re only a couple of minutes into your workout routine and you’re just not feeling this exercise thing, today. You’re about to step off the machine and find something easier to do or maybe even just go home.

You just picked up the kids from childcare on your way home from work. They’re being obnoxious in the back seat of your car. You’re exhausted from a long day of work. You’re on a tight family budget. You are also trying to eat healthy meals at home, but then out of the corner of your eye, you see a fast food restaurant at the next intersection.

What do all these scenarios have in common? They all contain a point of tension. A point when you need to make a decision on where you are going to allow this tension to lead you. In that very moment, you can make a good choice or a poor choice. In some points of tension, there may not even be a decision to be reached. You may just need to hold on to your tension for the time being.

Tension Resolution

I have come to the conclusion that we as human beings do not enjoy these points of tension. We will do almost anything to avoid them. And, it’s just too easy to slip into our default mode and make a poor decision as a result of the tension.

In the examples above, our default response is to be grumpy with our families and take it out on them when we haven’t had a good night’s sleep.

Our default reaction is to seek pleasure and comfort over a strenuous workout.

Our default reflex is to save time, energy, and the hassle factor for dinner by going through a fast food drive thru on our way home from work.

In the majority of situations, our default response is to take the easy way out in order to resolve our point of tension.

Living With Tension

So, what should we do with these points of tension?

First, be aware that they occur in your life multiple times during the day. Simple awareness that this is going on can help you in deciding on what to do with the tension.

Second, recognize what your default response is in any of these situations. Everyone’s default is pressing the easy button to get out of the tension as fast as possible.

Third, establish a compelling vision of your ultimate life. Compare your default reaction to these points of tension and the life you ultimately desire.

Fourth, embrace the tension. Recognize the tension for what it is. Realize that you don’t always need to seek comfort by resolving your point of tension as quickly as possible.

Fifth, make the BEST choice that lines up with your life vision. You DO have a choice in these tension-filled situations. Plan ahead what your reaction will be in order to avoid hitting your default key. Decide in advance what the best choice is for you.

Questions: So, how aware are you of these points of tension and your natural default reaction to resolving these tensions in your life? Now that you’re at least a little more aware of them, what is your plan in order to deal with them from this point forward?

A Financial Vision For America

Photo by Kyle Kim

Photo by Kyle Kim

The Problem

Our nation is in dire financial trouble.

The greatest nation on earth, the richest, most prosperous country the world has ever known, is on the brink of financial collapse. As of the date of this writing on July 4, 2013, the national debt clock is approaching $17 Trillion.

All political parties, all Presidents, all congresses, all state and local governments must be called to account.

For decades, our politicians have been intoxicated with power and vast financial resources they have confiscated from us, the American people.

For too long, our local, state, and federal governments have paid for programs that are too expensive and just don’t work. For too long, we have run yearly deficits that have led us to unsustainable debt loads. For too long, we’ve been throwing money around we don’t have, at problems we simply cannot fix with money alone. For too long, we have kicked the financial can down the nation’s fiscal timeline, hoping for a miracle to materialize that never will.

For too long, there has been little to no accountability for bad fiscal policy. For too long, our politicians have been playing political as well as financial games with us.

For too long, many of our wealthiest citizens have been gagged and shackled, simply because they have incredible, financial savvy.

Spending money we do not have doesn’t work in our own households, and it certainly doesn’t work in our governments, either. There will be a pay-day, someday. It won’t be today and probably not tomorrow, but there is coming a tipping point, soon.

Something needs to change, today. Our nation must rise out of our stupor of financial insanity into a glorious new sunrise of financial responsibility, stability, and plain, old-fashion, common sense.

The Vision

I have a vision of American citizens who understand personal finances. They budget appropriately. They spend less than they make. They live debt free lives. They save a portion of their income for the future. They actually pay for their own food, cell phones, healthcare, college, and emergency expenses instead of relying on government handouts.

I have a vision of churches and para-church ministries who rush to give aid to our citizens, instead of Federal Government agencies.

I have a vision of a prosperous United States of America, a nation that encourages appropriate government budgeting practices, spending below our means, and paying down its debt load as quickly as possible.

I have a vision of politicians who are required to live under the same fiscal policy rules they enact on us.

I have a vision of local, state, and federal governments that encourage hard work, financial reward, business growth, innovation, wealth, investment. This means lowering personal and business tax rates to reasonable levels so that we actually encourage productivity rather than discourage it.

I have a vision of wealthy citizens who are applauded and thanked for their contributions to society, rather than demonized. They are encouraged to achieve great financial success, because they have worked hard and risked their fortunes in order to invest their finances, build amazing businesses, and hire us to help them.

I have a vision; no, I have a dream today.

The Dream

I have a dream that one day, all of us will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

Sweet land of financial liberty; let financial freedom ring!

And if America is to return to being the greatest nation this world has ever known, this must become true. So let financial freedom ring from the New York Stock Exchange to the San Francisco Transamerica Pyramid Center.

Let financial freedom ring from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to the Dallas Stock Exchange.

Let financial freedom ring at the IRS Building in Washington, D.C.

Let financial freedom ring in the US Treasury as well as Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Let financial freedom ring in the City of Miami Mayor’s Office to the Washington State Legislature.

Let financial freedom ring from every household, yea, from every institution, business, church, and government entity in this great land.

And when this happens, when we allow financial freedom to ring from every corner of these great United States, then we will truly achieve the unalienable rights outlined by our founding fathers: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Question: Will you join with me in this vision? If so, please leave a comment and then share in every corner of social media. Thank you!

14 Practical Leadership Lessons I Have Learned From Being An Orchestra Director

Photo by nasa hq photo

Photo by nasa hq photo

The Life And Leadership Of An Orchestra Director

I think everybody has a certain perception of symphony orchestra directors, especially the top-end professionals. People probably view them as suave, sophisticated, jet-setters who have a pretty cushy job (yeah, sure, that’s me!).

While that may be true for a small minority of the top professionals, in my experience, being an orchestra director has awesome rewards as well as very unique challenges. This is particularly true of those of us conductors who lead volunteer orchestras. The musicians in our orchestras can walk whenever they feel like it. As music directors, we either lead them well or they will bail on us, guaranteed.

Over the last 16 years of leading volunteer orchestras (as well as from being a trumpet player under a bunch of great and horrible conductors), I’ve learned several valuable leadership lessons that apply not only to directing orchestras but also really to leading any organization.

14 Leadership Lessons From Orchestra Conducting

  1. Clarify the mission and vision. Every group is energized by its own unique vision and mission. If your group is not clear on what their mission is, then the organization will break down over time. As the leader, be sure the mission is clear in your own mind, first. Then, find creative ways to communicate the team’s mission on a regular basis.
  2. Model the organization’s values. Let me give you an example here. One of the values that I regularly discuss with my orchestra is excellence. If I preach excellence each week with my orchestra, but then come into rehearsals and worship services unprepared to direct them, I am essentially a hypocrite. I need to practice what I preach. Whatever values your organization upholds, be sure that you model those values for your followers.
  3. Communicate clearly and consistently. As a conductor, I have to be extremely clear with my baton, hands, and verbal instructions in order to communicate exactly how I need my orchestra to perform. My personal leadership pet peeve is communication. There are a lot of bad communicators out there, that’s for sure. I believe all leaders need to be obsessed with the flow of clear communication between them and their followers. Without good, secure, clear lines of communication, the team will break down over time. Communicate a clear, consistent message through phone, email, social networks, text messaging, newsletters, and personal talks with your team.
  4. Set high expectations. “High expectations are the key to everything.” – Sam Walton. The groups you lead will rise (or fall) to the level of your expectations. Make sure you are crystal clear in the expectations you have for yourself as well as for those you lead. If your people believe in your leadership, then they will do whatever they can to rise to your desired level of expectation.
  5. Be prepared to lead. Anytime you’re out front leading your team in a meeting, a project, or any event, be sure you have your act together. Prepare heavily on the front end before meetings or events, so that things flow well on the back-end. Come prepared to lead your team in order for your team to be inspired to follow you.
  6. Focus your best energy on leading your leaders. The most effective leaders understand this key principle. Spend the majority of your time leading and developing your leaders. Your team will achieve more long-term when all the leaders are leading at their highest potential.
  7. Be respectful of your team. Gone are the days of the tyrant director on the podium. Stomping around and yelling at your followers just doesn’t fly anymore. They will stop following you. You must lead your team as a group of (mostly) equals. You just happen to be the one who has been placed in the position of leading the team.
  8. Prioritize the work flow. As you analyze the work projects that need to be accomplished, be sure that your team understands the priority assigned to each task. Have them focus the majority of their best time and energy into those tasks that are the highest priority.
  9. Prepare the work environment. Your team will have physical, tangible equipment needs at some level. Make sure your team has everything they need to do the work you are asking them to do. Have everything set-up in the right manner, ready to be put to its best use.
  10. Quality practice leads to excellent performance. Musicians understand this concept better than anyone. The better my practice time flows, the better my performance will go. Work hard for excellence in the private practice room, in order for your public performance to match that same level of excellence.
  11. Be an encourager. “A good director creates an environment, which gives the actor the encouragement to fly.” – Kevin Bacon. Your group is going to climb higher, faster based on the amount of encouragement that you give them individually and corporately. I’m not talking fake encouragement, either. When you catch them doing awesome stuff (and you will), then give them a bunch of high-fives and pats on the back. Your followers will appreciate the sincere encouragement you give them.
  12. Praise publicly. Criticize privately. I’ve learned this leadership lesson the hard way, mostly in reverse, though! Here’s what I mean. Several years back, one of the leaders in my orchestra went on a critical rant during a rehearsal in front of the entire orchestra about something I did that he didn’t like. It really threw me off-balance the rest of the evening. The next day, I set-up a time to have lunch with this individual. When we met for lunch a few days later, I shared with him this principle. I simply and politely asked him that when he had a specific problem with my leadership, if we could meet privately to discuss the issue. I didn’t think our rehearsal time was the best time to “air our grievances.” Thankfully, we have never had another issue, since!
  13. Celebrate the victories. Honestly, I always struggle with this one. I’m the type of leader that has the tendency to move on to the next project as soon as possible. Take time to publicly “bask in the glory” of a job well done with your team.
  14. Quietly analyze the defeats. While victories should be celebrated publicly, your team’s defeats should be analyzed privately. Meet with the various leaders of your team to determine why you failed and how the failure can be corrected. Turn your team’s immediate failures into learning and growth opportunities for future wins.

Questions: Of these 14 leadership lessons, which ones do you personally embrace? Which ones are new concepts for you? What leadership lessons have you learned and developed in your specific career field? Feel free to leave a comment and share with this community.

What’s Your “Why,” And Why Haven’t You Discovered It Yet?

Photo by Cea.

Photo by Cea.

The Best TED Talk Ever

Have you ever heard of a guy named Simon Sinek who has this little TED Talk video called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action?” I believe this is the most viewed TED talk to date. In my humble opinion, it’s also the best TED talk I’ve ever seen.

This guy gets it. This guy understands what inspires people to accomplish amazing things in their lives.

Before reading and further, I would encourage you to watch the TED Talk YouTube video link I have embedded into this post.

The Golden Circle

As part of Simon’s research into how great leaders inspire action, he codified the concept of “The Golden Circle.” The Golden Circle is simply a diagram of 3 concentric circles. The outside circle is labeled “What.” The second circle is labeled “How.” And, finally, the inner circle is labeled “Why.”

Photo by Gavin Llewellyn

Photo by Gavin Llewellyn

Simon believes that most people and organizations work from the outside in. They start with “what,” then move on to “how,” and then many times they never even move on to “why.” Most people’s “why” is fuzzy to them anyway. As a result, they aren’t as successful as they possibly could be.

In this video, Simon Sinek lays out the supposition that individuals who achieve great things as well as attract a passionate following start from inside The Golden Circle, and then work their way outward.

They start with their “why,” then move to “how,” and finally “what.”

3 Examples Of Powerful “Whys”

In Simon’s talk, he gives us three primary examples to support this Golden Circle concept: Apple, Inc., the Wright Brothers, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

  • Apple, Inc. has a cult-like following because they “think differently.” The company’s mantra is to challenge the status quo. Their following is attracted to the company’s “why.” Apple just happens to build great computers, software, and peripherals as an expression of their ultimate “why.”
  • The Wright Brothers had a dream to figure out how to build a flying machine. They didn’t have a lot of money or additional resources. They mostly used equipment from their bicycle shop in Dayton, OH. What they had, though, was an incredible passion to figure out how to accomplish this flying thing. Their “why” was stronger and bigger than the others who were trying to accomplish manned, powered flight around that same time period in 1903.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. He had a long-term vision of a country that had a completely integrated society of both blacks and whites living and working together. People of all colors were attracted to his vision. The peaceful march on Washington, D.C. in 1963 and eventual end of segregation were the direct result of his “why.”

Who Cares? Why is “Why” So Important?

Why is “why” so important? From the standpoint of The Golden Circle, the “Why” of any individual or organization is the driving, passionate, motivating force to accomplish any great movement.

So, what’s your why? Do you even have a why? Do you have a vision bigger than yourself, that it keeps you motivated in your career, business, and life?

If you don’t have a great, motivating “why” for your life, don’t worry. You still have time. Spend some quality time meditating and journaling about what you’re passionate about. Attempt to pinpoint what gets you out of bed in the morning. What motivates you (or has the potential to motivate you) to live your best life and accomplish great stuff along the way?