Lessons On Leadership: Peak Performance From Adequate People

Peter Drucker was the first to draw a parallel between Leadership and Orchestra Conductors when he observed:

“A great orchestra is not composed of great musicians but of adequate ones who produce at their peak. [A great conductor] has to make productive what he has…the players are nearly unchangeable.  So it is the conductor’s people skills that make the difference.”

What makes this particularly applicable to DeathCare is that our workers are not factory line workers as current trends in funeral home supervision and management are beginning to treat them. They are knowledge workers and in this same essay Drucker went on to say:

“The critical feature of a knowledge workforce is that its workers are not labor, they are capital.”

The success of any business is in how it invests its capital and if our workforce is our capital and we manage them like machines in a knowledge environment we are likely to lose. If, instead like the great conductors in this video, we begin to create the environment, the structure and the mechanisms that enable adequate people to continuously operate at their peak then we will realize a 100-fold return on our investment.
But, I fear this video may be too subtle for many in the profession to fully grasp what Mr. Talgam is trying to convey. In essence, his point about enabling the players to tell their own story and thereby become partners is really about building a team of collaborators around a central purpose and the conductor being a team leader.

Some Things To Note As You Watch:

Itay Talgam takes us through the entire progression of management as it develops from the “micro-manager” as represented by Riccardo Muti to what Jim Collins (author of the book: “Good To Great”) refers to as a LEVEL V leader as represented by Leonard Bernstein.

Note the fate of Riccardo Muti

This video is 20 minutes and you may be tempted to stop but HERE IS WHAT I REALLY WANT YOU TO DO:

As you watch the video and as Talgam describes the leadership style of each conductor try and decide where you fit.  If you are an employee, what is your bosses style?

“[A conductor's] happiness does not come from only his own story and his joy of the music. The joy is about enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time.” (Itay Talgam)

How Leonard Bernstein managed to get adequate people to perform at their peak:

My bet is that he did not overpay people.  In fact, compensation probably didn’t have much to do with it.  But I do believe the following components were key factors:

  • He set clear expectations
  • He set personal goals for each player and enabled them to develop
  • He gave regular and speedy feedback
  • He worked one-on-one and in teams
  • He did not accept mediocrity and would not let individuals accept it either
  • Everyone knew how they contributed and they were important to the team
  • Everyone knew they were cared about
  • He took obvious pleasure in THEIR success

Final thought:  Can you imagine the sublime ecstasy Mr. Bernstein experiences in enabling ADEQUATE PEOPLE to accomplish a SUPERIOR PERFORMANCE.


If you want to know what a LEVEL V leader is then take another 2 1/2 minutes and watch this last video


  1. Rick Baldwin says:

    This one is your best yet!

    • Alan Creedy says:

      WOW! Coming from one of the few people in funeral service that have a well defined leadership model that is high praise indeed. Thank you

  2. Comparing funeral homes to other entities is a favorite pursuit of mine, and this a great piece to illustrate the parallels between funeral home owners/managers and orchestra conductors, and their related participants.

    Staff members of all variances and skill levels can work together in unison to accomplish all the tasks as needed to bring both family-requested and optionally meaningful arrangements to completion. The degree of satisfaction or level of experience perceived may be heighten if the conducting funeral leader can peak the varying abilities of each staff member.

    In the context of musical thoughts, the funeral service leader needs to know well the abilities and select the players to best set the stage, score new and harmonious sections, and orchestrate it to a conclusion which assists the audience in their grieving processes.

    A difference in this parallel is that an orchestra conductor can only allow his musicians to achieve peaks within the music as written and cannot provide opportunity for them to be creative or play outside-the-box as they work together from beginning to end of each pre-formatted composition. Funeral directors working together as a team can continuously look for opportunities to add special efforts and additional meaning to the funeral service even as it is being performed. Those specially added notes and personalized highlights can make the difference between a routinely conducted service and a most helpful one.

    Thanks Alan for this thoughtful parallel.

    • Alan Creedy says:

      EXCELLENT comments. Perhaps it would help to add to the metaphor the idea that the deceased and / or family are really the ones in the composer spot. The funeral director is helping with interpretation. But you absolutely see where this is going.

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