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What orchestras can teach executives about conducting business

Corporate executives are getting a lesson in leadership and communication from the conductor’s podium thanks to the Music Paradigm, a program that trains business leaders in the fine art of teamwork. Paul Solman goes behind the scenes of a recent session.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    But first- a most unusual lesson for corporate executives, how a classical music conductor is teaching business leadership.

    Economics correspondent Paul Solman visits a program where clients learn about the top by visiting the pits, the orchestra pit, that is.

    Paul has the story as part of our weekly series Making Sense.

  • Paul Solman:

    A couple dozen freelance musicians. Many had never worked together before. Some had never even met. They gathered, rehearsed for about an hour, and performed Haydn's Symphony Number 44 flawlessly.

    But how can a pop-up organization such as this function like a perfectly tuned machine, when so many organizations, including maybe yours, seem dysfunctional?

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    And it makes you wonder, is there any way to use this to bring about collaboration?

  • Paul Solman:

    It made conductor Roger Nierenberg wonder if there weren't a lot musicians can teach businesspeople.

    And so, for over 20 years, he's run the Music Paradigm, seating executives in an orchestra.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    Step up here onto the podium, and I will get you a companion.

  • Paul Solman:

    Even inviting them to join him on the podium.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    You want to find out, what are the skills that they use? What can you steal from this orchestra, transplant into your own life, thereby bringing greater success not only to yourself, but to all those who work with you?

  • Paul Solman:

    At the ritzy Mohonk Mountain House resort in the Catskill Mountains, New York Presbyterian Hospital's superstar chief residents were the target audience.

  • Dr. Steve Corwin:

    These are the most talented young physicians in the country. And we have tended to say, well, they're going to do their own thing and then we will deal with all the other people in the hospital. It's a big mistake.

  • Paul Solman:

    Because, says CEO Steve Corwin, they're key executives in a $5.2-billion-a-year business, who may not always appreciate the supporting cast, says chief operating officer Laura Forese.

  • Dr. Laura Forese:

    I don't care how good a surgeon you are. You cannot do it on your own.

  • Paul Solman:

    Consider surgeon Steven Lee-Kong's wonder and envy at the tacit teamwork here.

  • Dr. Steven Lee-Kong:

    They sounded like one instrument. If I'm doing an operation, and it's a team I have never worked with before, it's invariably chaos.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    So, you know what the orchestra did the first thing? They tuned up. If they start playing before they tune up, they're going to be unhappy.

  • Paul Solman:

    Or, as the CEO suggested saying to the surgical team-

  • Dr. Steve Corwin:

    Team, this is our first voyage together.

  • Paul Solman:

    Yes.

  • Dr. Steve Corwin:

    Let's talk about how we're going to do this operation. Let's just go through this for 10 or 15 minutes before we start the operation. Right?

  • Paul Solman:

    Teamwork. And if not?

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    So, I hate to do this to you, but would you mind giving an A, which is just about a quarter-of-a-tone low, for the horns and the oboes and the bassoon?

    What happens when you have one silo on its own standard and you have another silo on a different standard? So, strings, you play on your own pitch the last note. We're playing just one note. And we will all play together. Do you recognize the sound of a high school orchestra?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    The problem is with the fact that these silos are not communicating across to one another.

  • Paul Solman:

    Elizabeth Stephens is chief resident in that loftiest of silos, cardiothoracic surgery. Snooty, nose in the air because you're at the top of the — of the pyramid, right? Fair?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Dr. Elizabeth Stephens:

    I will say that this specialty as a whole has been known for that.

  • Paul Solman:

    A specialty in which lack of teamwork actually kills people.

  • Dr. Elizabeth Stephens:

    I can do a great operation and send the patient to the ICU. And if the ICU is not on the same page as me, we can have some very disastrous outcomes.

  • Paul Solman:

    Even though both sides — the ICU's doing a great job.

  • Dr. Elizabeth Stephens:

    Right.

  • Paul Solman:

    You did a great job, but…

  • Dr. Elizabeth Stephens:

    But if I don't communicate something that I did differently in the O.R., such that, you know, that certain patient needs to be managed differently, then we can have disastrous outcomes.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    So, let's play the last note. Make the whole orchestra sound like an organ, one instrument.

  • Paul Solman:

    But wait a second, objected anesthesiologist Leila Mei Pang.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    Yes, yes, please.

  • Dr. Leila Mei Pang:

    Your situation is a little bit different than our situation.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    I will bet it is.

  • Dr. Leila Mei Pang:

    You have started with people in your orchestra who are basically at the same level. We have an organization where we have people at multiple levels. How do you get all of these levels to work together?

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    I know that there are strong players in the orchestra. I know that there are weak players in the orchestra. So what I try to do is, I try to get those people to collaborate.

  • Paul Solman:

    But one of the lessons, how the leader can overdo it.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    They will play it beautifully, because I will make them play it beautifully.

  • Paul Solman:

    By micromanaging, for example.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    OK, give me the mic.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    How'd the orchestra sound?

  • Woman:

    Sorry, guys, not very good.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Woman:

    A little stale.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    OK, what was wrong? I heard all — I heard all the right notes.

  • Woman:

    Well, if — I hate to put the blame on you. But I think — I think maybe you were really paying attention to detail, but not communicating anything helpful to us.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    Or just not paying attention to those under you.

  • Woman:

    Your eyes were kind of just roving around, and the conducting just seemed a little bit disconnected from anything we were doing musically.

  • Woman:

    And I actually saw over here some people looking really nervous and some jittery legs.

  • Paul Solman:

    But one leadership mistake in particular really got to the docs.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    If I had said, now make it really beautiful, they have no idea what I'm asking for. A lot of times, we leaders are sloppy about that.

  • Paul Solman:

    Or vague, Dr. Julia Iyasere admitted, when she instructs her hospital staff on patient care.

  • Dr. Julia Iyasere:

    Take care of the patient well or do a good job.

  • Paul Solman:

    Or play beautifully.

  • Dr. Julia Iyasere:

    Play beautifully, instead of saying, do you understand how we're going to treat this person's X? Do you understand the diagnosis?

  • Paul Solman:

    How many of you think, after this, that you have fallen short in communicating with people who are on your teams? How many? Literally everybody?

    Even though they do have techniques in place, says ophthalmology director Royce Chen.

  • Dr. Royce Chen:

    We're always talking about like huddles and things like that. I think I tend to resist huddles, because, sometimes, they seem like they're just another thing you have to do.

  • Paul Solman:

    What are you going to do or might you do differently in the huddle now?

  • Dr. Royce Chen:

    So, first, I would say that I will commit to having a huddle, which is I think the first step. OK?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Paul Solman:

    That's a big concession?

  • Dr. Royce Chen:

    That is a big concession, because I think, oftentime, we just think it's an extra thing to do on the list of 1,000 things to do.

  • Dr. Steve Corwin:

    We tend to manage top-down.

  • Paul Solman:

    Again, the chief executives.

  • Dr. Steve Corwin:

    So, the residents get the message, the hospital says you got to do the huddles. Oh, God, what is this about? What do they know?

  • Dr. Laura Forese:

    So, when one of our doctors today said, I'm going to do that huddle, because that huddle now is going to include everyone in that clinic, that was gold.

  • Paul Solman:

    And gold for Roger Nierenberg. That's because, it turns out, his original business motivation was to help save the dying industry to which he's devoted his life.

  • Roger Nierenberg:

    I saw that the big problem for classical music in America is that we don't have enough audience.

    I have found a way to enroll people, to get people to feel classical music in a powerful way, in an artistic way. What really matters to me is the extent to which the music has gotten through to them.

  • Paul Solman:

    And sticks, sticks as well as the hospital hopes his business lessons will.

    For the PBS NewsHour, this is economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting from Mohonk Mountain, New York.

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