When Businesses Grow But Leaders Don’t: Become a Conductor


Have you ever thought of an organizational leader being a conductor of an orchestra? Or if you prefer, any type of team activity or sport creates the same set of principles. 

The Conductor’s Role and Method

As a small business entrepreneur, you have done most or all of the work yourself in your business. It was small enough that you could walk the hall or breakroom, give quick updates when needed, and then move on to the next task.

Your system of communication was largely one-on-one, and systems aren’t important in this early stage because only a few people are doing the work. Think of this scenario as a small music ensemble—just a few people making beautiful music together. There isn’t even a conductor standing in front the group in the traditional sense, but there may be a lead position playing an instrument (sound familiar?).   

Over time if you’re providing a great product or service, hopefully your business will grow. Your hard work is paying off with more business. At some point, though, you’ll face a barrier to future growth. You can’t do most of the work anymore, and there’s so much volume that you and your colleagues barely find time to talk with one another.

New systems and processes must be put into place to achieve that next level of growth; otherwise, quality will suffer and your growth will stop (or even decrease).

This is Your Moment

If you’re the leader of the organization, this is a critical moment in your career.

Either you learn how to grow and prosper as a leader, or you delegate the leadership to a qualified individual.

This new role may seem very alien and inefficient to you, but it’s essential that someone fill this spot. Now the business has grown from a small music ensemble to a 100-piece orchestra. The leader can’t sit in the group and play as he’s done in the past.

They must assume the role of standing in front and keeping the group on the same sheet of music (pun intended), keeping them on the same tempo, and ensuring that all parts are playing in harmony with one another.

Some Practical Principles

Here are just a few practical leadership lessons taken from my book, Leading with Honor

  • Know Yourself – Know your personal strengths and struggles, and surround yourself with people that can balance your deficiencies.
  • Clarify and Build Your Culture – Creating a mission, vision, and values statement for your organization shouldn’t seem like a waste of time. This mission/vision/values musical score is the page that everyone will play from. It doesn’t have to be a complex set of statements, but it should make it clear who you are, how you do business, and what’s most important so that everyone in the organization has a clear understanding of expectations and results.
  • Over-Communicate the Message – If you believe that you’ve stated a point, process, or objective enough, you haven’t. Don’t needlessly have meetings for the sake of meetings, but find ways to disseminate information in multiple ways that fits with your culture. Also, make sure that the communication isn’t all top-down; it should be reciprocal, and the culture you’ve created should make it safe to do so.
  • Develop Your People – You must be in the business of developing your people just as much as the business itself. If someone needs more practice to perfect their part in the orchestra, give them the resources to do it and build in a method of accountability to hear what they’ve learned in the process. In an orchestra, the leader must teach them how to listen to each other.
  • Build Cohesive Teams – Create an atmosphere of collaboration instead of fear and self-preservation. Allow mistakes to be made, give supervisors the latitude to help their people, and incentivize all staff in a way that builds a closer team.

I hope that this doesn’t seem like an insurmountable task to you. Many of the leadership lessons that I’ve described above have been tested, proven, and implemented many times over. Find a successful organizational plan or successful business, and build on an existing strategy.

And please, don’t re-create the wheel.

You Can Do It

As you begin for create your own plan incorporating the lessons above, the over-arching leadership lesson that must be applied is courage—that is, doing what you know is right even though it doesn’t feel natural and safe. There will always be some element of risk in building your business, but being risky within a set of guidelines and principles is much better than being reckless with no plan or direction.

Once the orchestra begins playing a piece of music, it takes courage to keep going. They can’t stop and must press through with confidence, watch the conductor, listen and communicate with each other, and collectively give the audience the best performance possible based on their passion, skill, training, and experience.

You can grow as a leader of expanding business. Put the right pieces into place, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Trust me—you’ll have a team that can enjoy it with you and have the trust and confidence to follow no matter what challenges you face.

So, have you been in the position where you needed to become a conductor of your own “symphony” at your business? Or, is this something that you are facing now or in the future? What are some concrete steps you can take to insure that this shift goes smoothly? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | Book | Facebook | Twitter

His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

Image Sources: ebeijing.gov.cn

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Francois Dreyer on April 26, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Absolutely brilliant article, thank you!

    • Lee Ellis on April 30, 2013 at 10:02 am

      Francois – thanks for the comment and genuinely hope that it’s helpful in your work!

  2. kwalitisme on April 26, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Reblogged this on kwalitisme.

  3. Dr. Bill Donahue on April 29, 2013 at 11:06 am

    I really want to affirm the culture clarity portion of this – I contend that leaders grow when they are forced to shape and articulate the culture in which optimum performance is possible — after all we are primarily in the culture transformation business, internally and externally. Nice article!

    • Lee Ellis on April 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

      Dr. Donahue – great followup comments to the article. As leadership coaches and consultants, we are in the business of personal and cultural growth and change for our clients! Best wishes to you in your work today.