The Ignorant Maestro

“Choosing ignorance might seem a terrible quality to exhibit in your workplace—a sure path down the stairs and out the corporate door. But stick with me here and see how it leads you upward. You’ll understand why great leaders embrace ignorance and use it to elevate their people to new heights of achievement.”

A conductor in front of his orchestra is an iconic symbol of leadership—but what does a true maestro actually do to enable the right sort of cooperation among his players, leading to an excellent performance?

For twenty years, in addition to conducting orchestras around the world, Itay Talgam has been a “conductor of people”  advising leaders in fields ranging from global political figures to start-up entrepreneurs, from scientific researchers to anti-terrorist combat units, from advertising to refugee agencies, in scales ranging from CEOs of Fortune 100 companies to groups of parents and their kids.

In his lectures (including an acclaimed TED talk) and now in this book, Talgam shows why imposing your vision on your people is likely to backfire. Great conductors may know in advance how they want a piece to be played, but they make room for the creativity and passion of their musicians. They respect the gap between the baton and the instruments.  They focus more on listening than on speaking. And they embrace their own ignorance, knowing that others might have better ideas than the conductor can imagine.

Talgam explores the nuances of leadership by describing the distinctive styles of six world-famous conductors: the commanding Ricardo Muti, the fatherly and passionate Arturo Toscanini, the calm Richard Strauss, the guru-like Herbert von Karajan, the dancing Carlos Kleiber, and the master of dialogue Leonard Bernstein. All took a different approach to the age-old leadership dilemma: How to maximize both control and creative freedom at the same time.

The Ignorant Maestro will empower you to help your own team make even more beautiful music.  Talgam’s anecdotes and insights will change the way you think about listening, humility, and the path to unpredictable brilliance. As he puts it:

An old proverb says: “If you look at zero, you see zero. If you look through zero, you see infinity.” Our baton is that zero, in itself of no use to an orchestra even if we wave it elegantly. Only when we are able to make our musicians look through the stick and see the full scope of artistic and human achievement embedded in the music— only then have we touched the true essence of the conductor’s art. In fact, it is the essence of every leader’s art, vital to all who conduct business and other high-stakes enterprises, far beyond the walls of the concert hall.

Article: Business Insider: “A conductor who’s taught classes at Google and Goldman Sachs explains how great leaders inspire brilliance”.

Article: ‘Lessons from the Podium’ in Communication Director Magazine.

Radio Interview: BBC Radio 4 Midweek on May 27th, 2015.


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Published by Penguin Random House