Your leadership instrument

A Stradivarius violin can cost millions of dollars. These instruments built by the Stradivari family in the 17th and 18th centuries, are coveted for being the finest in the world for the sound that emanates from them by the world’s greatest violinists. Yet in blind trials over recent years, amateur and virtuoso violinists alike cannot distinguish between the sound that comes from a “Strad” and a more modern violin played by someone else.

Could it be that there are inherent and indefinable qualities in the people who’ve mastered the violin, rather than the stringed instrument itself, that allow us to be moved by the melodious sound we hear when Joshua Bell or Itzhak Perlman pick up and play the instrument?

In reality, those who are masters of their instrument are as much the instrument themselves as the violin they play. They must attend to themselves to be all they can be in order to continue to play music with mastery.

So it is with leadership. Very few individuals are “born leaders”; they must learn, practice, and master their craft. A great culture and excellent employees don’t make up for a leader who hasn’t been intentional about becoming better at what they do. And in fact, a leader who hasn’t bothered to master the art of leadership can bring down an organization that’s filled with exceptional employees.

So what this means is that if you endeavor to be an outstanding leader, you must also recognize that you are the instrument. Nothing happens without your continued attention to you as the instrument of your leadership:

Learn to become a leadership virtuoso through self-observation, mastering the art of obtaining feedback, and practicing the things you need to get better at. Want to become a better communicator? Aspire to inspire others? Simple desire isn’t enough. Find out what specific behaviors you need to amplify or change, and then practice, practice, practice.

Discover what it means to use your heart as well as your head. Leadership is an art every bit as much as playing the violin, and “art” requires more heart than head. The heart connects and creates harmonious relationships with others that make your leadership meaningful and effective.

Care for the instrument your leadership inhabits – you must take care of yourself. Do whatever you can to stay healthy: get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and take care of your spirit. Take time away from work and spend time with people who inspire you, and your instrument will thrive.

Stay vigilant and current. It’s easy to get sloppy and relax too much in your work as a leader when things are going well. You never know when they will change and require you to show up differently. Find ways to continue to practice your craft: lead a volunteer effort, create a Mastermind group, attend a leadership program, (and of course) hire a coach to hold you accountable to caring for your instrument.

Virtuoso violinists know that paying millions for their instrument is only a small part of being great artists. They must attend to their learning, their heart, their spirit and of course their practice. Virtuoso leaders also know that attending to themselves as their instrument in these ways is their path to greatness.

Watch Joshua Bell speak about the rich history of his Strad here: and learn how he cares for his spirit with Bach: .

I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

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