When I was a little kid, I would occasionally catch performances of symphonies on TV. I liked classical music a lot as a kid, and I was always really impressed with the performances of big symphonies. What always threw me off was that, at the end of the performance, the applause and credit were clearly being primarily directed at the conductor. The conductor! Why? That dude didn’t do anything! He just stood there waving a wand around, he didn’t even play anything.

As a kid, I didn’t get it. When I was in my school’s 4th-grade band, one kid, usually the one with the least amount of musical talent (so in this case, very much me), got the unenviable job of thumping on the big bass drum. I had one job, which was to thump on that drum at regular intervals. I had to do this (it was explained to me) so that everyone could keep time together. Okay, so I got that – but I certainly didn’t get credit for it. At the end of a performance, nobody was shouting “Wow, that would have been impossible without the boring-but-reliable bass drum kid back there!”

So in my head, the conductor was the equivalent of the water boy – a supporting character, not the main thing. Only as I grew up did I realize that the conductor wasn’t just important, he was essential. Even if he never played a note.

The more complex the interplay, the more essential a conductor is. When you get eighty people together, all of whom are doing individually complex things and those incredibly complex things have to come together into a beautiful whole without flaw, it would be utterly impossible without someone directing. No matter how talented each individual member is, tiny mistakes are both inevitable and like dominoes. They will cascade into disaster without someone whose skill is exactly in anticipating and correcting those mistakes, coordinating that beautiful effort.

Many adults think the way I thought as a kid – that managers don’t work. And I’m sure some managers don’t. But coordinating things is a beautiful and necessary skill on its own. Don’t forget how vital it truly is.

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