Leadership lessons from Hector Berlioz

2014

Hector Berlioz was a French Romantic composer whose unconventional style of orchestration influenced the likes of Wagner and Tchaikovsky. With his Symphonie Fantastique, Berlioz set into motion a myriad of changes in orchestral assembly that remain basic staples in modern orchestra. In fact, his book on the subject, Treatise on Instrumentation, first published in 1843, is still in print and is routinely referenced in classical music circles to this day.

Clearly, there are many lessons to be learned from this music innovator. But not just about music: here are a few lessons on leadership that can be derived from Hector Berlioz:

Driven: As a young man, and at the insistence of his father, Berlioz pursued an education in medicine. However, while in school, he quickly turned his attentions to music and eventually lost interest in becoming a physician. Frustrated by this decision, his father cut off his financial support. Undeterred, Berlioz continued to pursue is musical ambitions.

Like Berlioz, leaders must be driven to achieve great things. It is a requirement of setting direction and managing change within an organization.

Tenacious: Berlioz was not formally trained as a classical musician. In fact, he never even learned how to play a piano. Instead, he learned about harmony from textbooks. But, with dogged determination, he became a highly accomplished composer and conductor – in fact, he is considered by many as being one of the best of his times.

Great leaders just don't quit. Berlioz' tenacity drove him to prominence and enabled him to influence his contemporaries. Executive teams can learn from his grit and determination.

Meticulous: Exasperated by the limited capabilities of other conductors, who were more accustomed to interpreting the simpler musical compositions of the times, Berlioz began to conduct his own orchestras, which provided a vehicle for him to gain popularity across Europe.

Leaders should adopt Berlioz's meticulousness. It leads to greater discipline, thoroughness and care in the pursuit of organizational goals and objectives.

Resilient: Berlioz possessed an unconventional style that irritated critics and concert goers in his day. The elaborate orchestrations of his work were sometimes considered bloated by colleagues. His orchestras often exceeded a thousand musicians, which made his music very expensive to produce. In need of funding, Berlioz took to writing musical critiques to supplement his income – using the money received to pursue his musical ambitions.

Leaders need to develop the intestinal fortitude of Berlioz. Indeed, a willingness to work hard and do whatever it takes to overcome adversity is a precious leadership trait that we all need to cultivate in ourselves and in our people.

Big Thinking: Berlioz found inspiration in literary works from the likes of William Shakespeare and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His La damnation de Faust is a popular example of the work that Berlioz derived through his willingness to look beyond – exploring and combining thinking from other media to further evolve his own big ideas for classical music.

Leaders must think big, too. We need to develop a talent to look beyond our industry's current boundaries and capitalize on thoughts and concepts that come from other disciplines in order to inspire our organizations to innovate and transform.

To close, Hector Berlioz's influence continues to be felt. His innovative orchestral ideas can still be heard in concert halls around the world. But, this degree of influence wasn't a simple journey. Rather, it was earned through hard work and perseverance – the very traits that we, as leaders, must possess in order to leave our legacies on the people and organizations that we manage.

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About The Author

James M. Kerr
James M. Kerr

James M. Kerr is the Global Chair of the Culture Transformation Practice at N2Growth and the author of The Executive Checklist. A specialist in organizational design and cultural transformation, he has been helping clients re-imagine the way work is organized and performed for more than 25 years. Kerr’s next book is due out later in 2016 and focuses on leadership and strategy-setting.