Could Leaders Learn More from the Arts than Business Schools?

If you are in business and just like crunching numbers in a spreadsheet, you may not be interested to read on.

Believe it or not, MBA students at Said Business School in Oxford, as part of their learning programme, had to conduct choristers singing O Clap Your Hands by Orlando Gibbons, first performed in 1622.

Apparently, the first volunteer was an overconfident American. He went wrong early on. His most obvious mistake was not to ask the experienced singers how they wanted to be directed.

The students learned that leaders need to listen to their teams, especially when they have specialist knowledge. As conductors all they may need you to do is set the pace and let the group govern themselves.

It was noticeable that the choir managed pretty well even if the conductor was waving their arms around in an indeterminate fashion. The lesson there was that leaders can only do so much damage, particularly when they don’t try to control the whole process.

Said Business School is not alone. Carnegie Mellon has introduced poetry, art installations and a book club to its leadership courses to help develop empathy skills.

RADA also offers training courses for executives to improve their impact and influence through their voice and physicality. Women leaders in particular are commenting on how useful this training is.

Such training is proving to be popular and much more fun than traditional programmes, which focus on entering numbers in spreadsheets and learning lots of TLA’s – that’s 3 letter acronyms!

It looks as if business could learn from the arts and vice versa. ‘Twas ever thus!

Where did you learn most about being an effective leader?

For more on these recent business school initiatives, see the Bartleby column in The Economist.



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