How to be a better CIO (IV): Lead an orchestra

In December we usually have a general gathering with the entire company in Barcelona. We like to do a different activity each year: archery, kart racing, touring the old city competing to see who is first to find a series of historical keys (which is called a gymkhana here), things like that. And after that, go out to eat, of course.

This time we had a musical experience: The people of SinfoSALLE, a workshop from university college La Salle, divided us into two groups, gave us a number of ‘informal instruments’ (tubes, bottles, plastic bags, stuff like that), and made us compete to see who could make better music. Or something like that.

I am simplifying it a bit, but in essence, that was the challenge. And it was very, very interesting. Because, ultimately, it was a leadership exercise. Musical knowledge didn’t matter much—the true challenge was motivating, organizing and getting the best out of the team.

One group managed to play a consistent piece; harmonious and even audible. The other group did quite the opposite. I’d love to tell you differently, but I was in the second group.

The post-mortem analysis by SinfoSALLE’s Alma Mater Menno Marien was truly revealing. One group had really understood the concept, agreed upon the idea, endorsed the strategy and the objective, and gave their best to make it happen. They worked hard and enjoyed it.

The other group split up without having a coherent plan; little sergeants appeared to reproach their less motivated who—obviously—became even more unmotivated, and turned into spectators of the disaster.

A leader shouldn’t just run ahead or push from behind: a leader accompanies, listens, learns, believes and makes the team members believe in themselves and in the group. And besides getting the best out of everyone, he makes it fun.

The time ‘lost’ in aligning everyone with the true objective is recovered a thousand times in the execution afterwards.

And I am being brief—there were many other findings. We took several little steps on the endless learning curve.

Too bad that, musically speaking, we were miles away from making a dent in the universe. But it was useful to remind us that we’d better dedicate ourselves to developing software.

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