Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bernstein's Leadership Legacy

What will your leadership legacy be? How will you be remembered by those who were fortunate or unfortunate enough to have passed through your orbit as they followed their own career paths? This is a question worth pondering, as just this week I had a conversation with a colleague who was suggesting that they would "not even be remembered within a year of their leaving their present place of employment." It doesn't have to be that way, of course, and, in fact, there was recentlly an amazingly powerful and moving demonstration of leadership legacy in a most unlikely place. I'm referring to the February concert of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, in Pyongyang, when music director Loren Maazel, himself a long-standing superstar, stepped off of the stage, at a moment of immense personal achievement, when the whole world was watching, and invited Leonard Bernstein, dead for 19 years, to "conduct" the piece. Here is how the Financial Times reported it ["Ovation in Pyongyang is music to US ears"Anna Fifield in Pyongyang, sitePublished: Feb 26, 2008] :

For the encore, the orchestra played Leonard Bernstein's Candide, after which Mr. Maazel explained the orchestra's special attachment to its former conductor. "Imagine Maestro Bernstein coming back and conducting once more," Mr. Maazel almost whispered. "Maestro, do me a favour," he said in Korean, backing off the stage to leave the orchestra to play Bizet's Farandole without him. The sight of the empty green dais was spine-tingling....

I have thought about this moment for quite a while, now, and I believe it must be one of the most moving and powerful expressions of gratitude, from one leader to his/her mentor, imaginable. As leaders, we can only admire, and envy, Bernstein's legacy, for Maazel to honor him in this way. It proves, that strong and effective leaders can generate admiration and affection that lasts for decades.

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