The Conductor of an Orchestra Doesn’t Make a Sound

Benjamin Zander observed that “the conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound”. This has implications for all leaders, including those in software development.

The quote comes from a TED talk:

Benjamin Zander

Benjamin Zander

The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound. He depends for his power on his ability to make others powerful.

My job was to awaken possibility in other people. And you know how you find out? You look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining you know you’re doing it.

Benjamin Zander
on music and passion

Zander focused on the inspirational aspect, the “Shining eyes”, of his role but there are other facets:

Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble.

Conductors act as guides to the orchestras and/or choirs they conduct. They choose the works to be performed and study their scores to which they may make certain adjustments, work out their interpretation, and relay their ideas to the performers. They may also attend to organizational matters, such as scheduling rehearsals. Orchestras, choirs, concert bands and other sizable musical ensembles are usually led by conductors.

Wikipedia: Conducting

As a Programme Manager I’m responsible for building amazing software but I don’t touch a line of code. It helps that I understand software development, in the same way that a conductor must understand music, but my contribution is not writing the code myself.

Similar to a conductor my responsibilities are to direct the software development initiative, inspire the team and act as a guide, study the brief, choose an appropriate approach and communicate that, unify the team, set the pace, schedule prototypes and sub-projects, observe critically and shape the output of the team. Of course, organisations only need somebody like me when the programme of work is sizeable.