Book Review: Maestro—A Surprising Story About Leading by Listening, by Roger Nierenberg

Maestro by Roger Nierenberg
Maestro by Roger Nierenberg

2009, Penguin Group USA

Hardcover, 118 pages, $19.95

The opening scene of Maestro—a workday meeting where each person in the room spouts his or her own point of view at the expense of the greater good—is powerful specifically because it is so familiar. As leaders of teams and members of teams, we’re all guilty of being shortsighted at times. How do we step back and see the bigger picture of our team’s assets, and our shared goal of improving the bottom line for our companies?

In Maestro, the narrator’s solution comes when he hears about the new orchestra conductor —how the new conductor has a way of making the members of the orchestra all want to work together and achieve their individual best potential in order to contribute to the whole. Intrigued, the narrator soon finds himself sitting in the middle of the violin section of the orchestra’s next rehearsal.

With each orchestra rehearsal our narrator learns about the conductor’s leadership skills, and what it takes to get a group as diverse and dynamic as the members of an orchestra to create something cohesive and beautiful. The narrator then applies this to his business life, to his team of brilliant but stubborn workers, turning the company around. In this way, Nierenberg lays out the metaphor of a conductor and his orchestra as leader and team members for the reader, and shows how to apply the same principles to the business world of today.

What makes this format interesting is its ability to deliver the metaphor—and the resulting practical leadership advice that we all need—in a flowing narrative that keeps the reader engaged, creating more than a simple “how to be a great leader” type book full of lists, facts, statistics, and bulleted points. Getting the message across in the form of a story makes it more memorable and more pleasing to the reader. Some of the conductor’s quotes from the story that we can carry over into our own jobs include:

“Eventually I realized that a great performance would happen only when the motivation sprang as much from them as from me.”

“If a leader wants his people to truly own their work, then he has to be willing to let go of some control.”

“You can force compliance with your directions, you can require obedience, but you can’t mandate enthusiasm, creativity, fresh thinking, or inspiration.”

And key words that we find the conductor using throughout the story serve as take-home words that we should strive to make part of our daily professional lives: coordination, collaboration, initiative, change, and motivation.

The experience that conductor Roger Nierenberg brought to life at the 2010 HBA Leadership Conference in Philadelphia with his Music Paradigm is one that those in attendance won’t soon forget. For those who weren’t able to attend, or those who were and want something concrete to take away from the event and back to the office with them, Nierenberg’s book, Maestro, fits the bill.

Book Review by Jennifer Ringler

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