What can business leaders learn from a philharmonic orchestra?

JoAnn Falletta was the conductor and the audience listened intently as she led the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s recent Power Up event as the keynote speaker. Falletta, of course, is the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. During her keynote address, she shared her insights as leader of the BPO for the past 20 years.

When she joined the BPO in 1999, Falletta was the first female conductor to lead a major American ensemble. The Power Up audience of more than 220 women leaders from throughout the Buffalo Niagara region was inspired by Falletta, who The New York Times once called “one of the finest conductors of her generation.”

As she spoke, Falletta noted that a philharmonic orchestra is hardly a model of progress for business. An orchestra may even seem old-fashioned, with musicians playing the same notes and compositions and even wearing the same type of concert dress as orchestras from the late 18th Century.

But Falletta said a symphony orchestra and today’s business world have a lot more in common than one might think—especially when it comes to leadership. She described her role as conductor as one of leading successful teamwork with each member sharing a quest for excellence. With a hundred musicians or more on stage, the conductor works with many different personalities, egos, and talents. Sounds a lot like business leadership.

Business lessons from philharmonic leadership

So what can business leaders learn from a symphony orchestra? Here are a few takeaways:

  • Create a powerful vision. Like a conductor, a CEO provides the framework and vision for the organization. She directs each individual contributor toward that vision and company mission. A business leader makes sure the company stays focused on the vision to grow and succeed.
  • Make others successful. Falletta described a conductor’s role as an inverted pyramid in which the conductor is there to support and empower every individual musician in the orchestra and convey their shared passion to the audience. Think of a CEO as working with team members to direct their talents and convey the company’s message to its customer base.
  • Help team members lead themselves. At any moment in a performance by a symphony orchestra, someone else—a soloist, for example—may take the lead. The conductor relies on the musician to lead themselves and contribute their skills to the performance. Falletta said encouraging leadership in others can create spontaneous inspiration for the entire group. In business, that can mean new ideas for moving the organization forward.

Falletta’s presentation was followed by a series of facilitated table talks during which attendees discussed leadership in the workplace including creativity and examples of powerful leadership. A networking hour followed, giving those in attendance a chance to connect with women leaders from a variety of business sectors in Buffalo Niagara.

The Partnership would like to extend special thanks to Falletta for inspiring our Power Up attendees and sharing her insights into leadership.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

The Partnership would like to thank the following businesses whose support made Power Up possible:

Presenting Sponsors

Houghton College

Event Sponsors

Networking Sponsor