What can new managers learn from young musicians?

What can new managers learn from young musicians?

The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is practice.

Vladimir Horowitz was a 20th century concert pianist who was still performing internationally well into his 80s. He attributes his success to the hours of practice required to perfect his pieces.

Last week students from our local Upper Schools Music department performed a brilliant flash mob in a local department store for their fashion show.

Watch it here – it will make your day!

This weekend, my 15 year old son’s jazz band performed at a concert in Windsor to raise money for Windsor Homeless Project Sleep Out 2018.

There are just 2 examples of a whole series of fantastic performances given by members of our Upper Schools bands. I am super-impressed every time I watch them perform their amazing repertoire of music with wonderful enthusiasm and passion.

The audiences clap and cheer but what they don’t see are the hours of practice leading up to each performance.

Before school, during breaks, lunch and after school too, the teenage musicians meet for rehearsals; every evening, my house is filled with the dulcet tones of my son’s trombone practice. Endless scales and repetitions of tricky bars.

What's this got to do with leadership development?

In a brilliant TED talk from Nov 2016,: “How to get better at the things you care about” Eduardo Briceño analyses why he was failing to improve at a wide variety of tasks and skills, despite spending a lot of time doing them, and caring a lot about them. His conclusion draws a crucial distinction between the times when we are learning, and the times when we are performing. We don’t automatically improve by just by performing a task many times. We improve by practising, which is different. Experience does not guarantee expertise.

Few people would challenge the need for musicians, and athletes too, to practice hard to develop their skills and abilities, but in my 20 years as a leadership trainer, I have seen many examples of team members who have been promoted to their first leadership position, and then been expected to transform into a leader almost overnight, without training, coaching or opportunities to practice their newly required skillset. I heard recently about a star sales person who was promoted to manage his own sales team, due to his excellent sales results. He was offered few opportunities for ‘learning’, no leadership development support, but was expected instantly ‘perform’ as a new leader. Within a year, he had been sacked for poor performance. He learned too quickly that the skills and experience that helped him achieve this managerial position were very different to the ones that would have enabled him to keep it.

So, what can new managers learn from these young musicians who so impress me?

1. Practice makes perfect:

Or at least practice makes better. Break down complex tasks and practice the key elements. Create low risk opportunities to regularly rehearse your newly developing leadership skills.

2. A good teacher makes all the difference

Get yourself a coach, sponsor or mentor, or all three, and book yourself some training. Create an ongoing support group with fellow delegates and share challenges, ideas and successes. Some musicians are self taught, but the vast majority learn their skills from a good teacher.

3. Listen to feedback.

If we switch from “transmit” mode, into receive mode – ie stop talking and start listening, we realise that feedback is all around us, we just don’t notice most of it. In a band or choir, every wrong note impacts the performance of the whole ensemble. So musicians receive instant feedback, and develop a clear understanding how their contribution affects the overall performance of the group.

At work, sometimes feedback is contained in a silence or a look from a colleague, manager, or direct report. In order to accelerate your development, try to be open and not defensive, ask for feedback on your performance and listen carefully to the responses. One tip is to make sure you base your questions around the benefits to your team, asking “What else can I do to support you?” or “What I can do to help the team perform better?” Because the focus is on supporting them, these questions are far more likely to stimulate a constructive discussion, than if you ask  “How am I doing?” which is all about you.

In summary

So, as a new manager, identify the key skills you need to develop, and create regular, low-key, quiet opportunities to practice them.  It’s a lot quieter than trombone practice, anyway!

Learning leadership skills is like learning an instrument, you need to practice and you need a good teacher

Our new ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership & Management

If you would like to invest in ILM approved leadership training for yourself, or your team, we are launching our Step Change to Leadership programme on 26th April, in Windsor.

This introduction to leadership programme comprises 3 one day workshops, run monthly, and provides an opportunity to gain the well respected ILM Level 3 Award and Certificate in Leadership & Management, (read more here.)

The 3 days of ILM approved training will help you explore and develop a range of leadership styles, creating a fantastic step change in your knowledge, skills and understanding of Leadership.

You also have the option of completing individual written assignments which lead to the respected Level 3 City & Guilds qualification.

This Award in Leadership & Management is one of the most popular and widely recognised ILM Level 3 courses.

We always have great discussions on our ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership & Management programmes

Book your place here 

As with all our training, we can come to you and deliver a bespoke programme for your organisation, or you can join our public ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership & Management programmes in Windsor and benefit from learning from other organisations.

Please contact us to see how we can help you invest in your new managers, helping you attract, develop and retain your talent.

Contact us to find out more

We help new managers become confident leaders.

What can job hunters learn from a pack of cards?


Here are 4 ways to ACE your interview










As part of National Careers Week, I ran Interview Skills sessions at a local careers fair for students preparing to leave school and apply for apprenticeships. Here are 5 tips I gave them, to help them stand out from the crowd, and ace their next interview.


Interview Skills tips:

1.    Do your research

Find out about the company beforehand.

Look them up online. What do they do? Have they been in the press recently?

Who’s interviewing you? Look them up on LinkedIn.

Just 5 minutes on the company website could make all the difference, (and make sure you mention this research during your interview.)

My husband was recently hiring sales people. He asked one candidate, who looked exceptional on paper:

“How much do you know about our company?”

“Nothing, really,”

“Have you visited our website?” “

Well, no. I’ve been a bit busy”.

The previous candidate had been well prepared and enthusiastic. Guess who got the job.

2.    Check your privacy settings

Just as you should be researching them, they may well be researching you. Hiring someone is a big commitment and employers want to reduce their risk. That all-important first impression may be created even before you meet in person.

During these sessions, I asked the students to search each other on-line and see what they could find in 2 minutes. Google images provided rich pickings. Hilarity soon turned to embarrassment and shock as they realised that any potential employer could also be looking at these pictures of them at festivals and parties. Everyone’s entitled to a private life and employers understand that, but it won’t hurt to increase your privacy settings and start to control your presence on line. It might just make the difference about who gets the job.

I shared this example with one of my own children who laughed, searched themselves, screamed, and immediately deleted their entire Twitter account.

3.    Stand tall, and smile (ok, that’s 2 tips)

Hiring managers often confess that they make up their minds about a candidate within minutes, or sometimes seconds, of meeting them. We always urge them not to, encouraging them to defer their decision making until they’ve heard what the candidate has to say, but nevertheless, we need to be realistic: the initial impression you create may impact the rest of the interview.

Harvard professor and body language expert, Amy Cuddy, has discovered that adopting what she called High Power Poses not only makes us look more confident, but it also creates hormonal changes within us: testosterone goes up and cortisol goes down, making us actually feel more confident and less nervous. Her 2012 TED talk on the subject, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”  has had 40 million views to date.

So, as you prepare to meet your interviewer, take a deep breath, stand tall, make eye contact, smile, step forward and offer a confident handshake.

4.    Speak up

Your voice is a valuable tool, so use it well. However good your answers may be, they won’t help you if your interviewer can’t hear you. A quiet, monotone quickly gets boring to listen to, while a fast, quiet voice sounds nervous. Try to increase the volume to ensure you’re audible, and vary your tone to sound more confident and enthusiastic. If you really want this position, you need to look like you want it, and sound like you want it too.

5.    Be yourself…

But be your best self. Your interviewer will be wondering what it would be like to work with you on a daily basis. Will you fit in with the team, the organisational culture and the customers? Will you turn out to be an asset, or a liability?!

Share examples of your skills. Don’t just tell the interviewer that you have good communication skills, or you’re a great team player, that you are organised or creative: show what you have done to build those skills and give examples. Playing sport, or an instrument, doing drama, a speech to your class, completing a coursework assignment, holding down a part time job all demonstrate skills and commitments which are valuable to employers. Show your personality, but remember, this is work, not school anymore.

So, I told my interview skills classes:

Do your research, check your privacy settings, stand tall, speak up and be your best self. We practised every element, and I wished them well.

To attend our interview skills training workshops, for candidates or hiring managers, please get in touch here. We’d love to help.