The Music + Leadership Link

Did you take piano lessons as a child? It could be a factor in your leadership abilities.

For many of the high achievers I spoke with, music functions as a “hidden language,” as Mr. Wolfensohn calls it, one that enhances the ability to connect disparate or even contradictory ideas. When he ran the World Bank, Mr. Wolfensohn traveled to more than 100 countries, often taking in local performances (and occasionally joining in on a borrowed cello), which helped him understand “the culture of people, as distinct from their balance sheet.”

Via NYT | Is Music the Key to Success


8 thoughts on “The Music + Leadership Link”

  1. I can definitely see a link between beneficial leadership abilities and musical talent. Key to musical talent is knowing how to connect with your audience – not only through the sound they perceive but through the emotions they feel. Many of the world’s strongest leaders have been those that have been able to speak powerfully to human emotion and draw upon the sympathy of their audience. Furthermore, within a piece of music are a complex series of notes and chords that are organized neatly in order to produce a euphonious melody. With every piece, a musician must learn this order – the structure, the movement, the ebb and flow of every song. Gaining this knowledge contributes a great deal to leadership and diplomacy between leaders because it teaches one the necessity of the cooperation of a series of notes. Two notes. from different locations on the piano and with different tones can work together to create a beautiful harmony. Multiple notes played together in a chord have the same effect. I believe that, like creating musical harmony, key to being a good leader is knowing how to create harmony in relations with others and how to go about it with tact and organizational skills. A leader must know how to connect with those he leads – how to reach their emotions and drive them to a course of action – but he also must know how to cooperate with not only those he leads, but those with whom he works and negotiates. These skills of connection and cooperation are both key to musical talent and leadership abilities

  2. Maybe saying that music is THE key to success is a bit of a stretch, at least considering all the other important leadership qualities we can notice in leaders. Also, I know people who are fantastic leaders who know nothing about music. I think that the ideal leader would be someone who has a combination of many different skills, including musical skills. But still, it is nice to know of some of the other benefits that come with being musically inclined and of spending so many hours of practice to become even just mediocre in the instrument you plan. I mean, the obvious benefits are the joy and personal satisfaction that come simply from being able to create music and feel emotions that only music can create. But knowing that “collaboration, creativity, discipline, and the capacity to reconcile conflicting ideas” can also be developed through music training are a definite bonus!

  3. I agree that saying that music is the key to success is in fact somewhat of an exaggeration. While there may certainly be a correlation, there is not much to the causation. People who spend time, money, and efforts on something like music I think are certainly more likely to be leaders and prominent, successful people, but I would contend that people are definitely successful without this musical background. Putting that much time and dedication into creating something beautiful, unique and creative like music stretches the mind and establishes good habits that may not have existed otherwise, but to say it is the cause of success is a little ridiculous. However, I think it is a good practice, when possible, to put children through music lessons of some sort. It teaches dedication, purpose and can provide a healthy stress outlet. I know that music has helped me become the person I am today in all the right ways because of all the side happy effects mentioned above that come with studying music.

  4. I am not entirely sold on this whole idea of music making leaders. I agree that learning an instrument takes a lot of practice and patience with oneself, that aids in leadership. There is really no denying that being musical has its benefits. I also think that other circumstances lead to being musical as well as being a leader. Many people who consider a professional musical career, may come from the background where they had the money to take lessons and pursue that path. That also means that they were able to get a great education and come from a family that had values that were exemplified in leadership. I think what leads people to be musicians also leads them to be musicians and that is why there is such a strong correlation there.

  5. Music, as will any cultural or humanities-based hobbies, will most definitely produce better leaders. While an understanding of music, literature, or other cultural elements do not in and of themselves make great leaders, they provide a solid, well-rounded base on which great leaders can be made. Leaders need to also have attributes that have nothing to do with the humanities, and some of which cannot be taught. However, I firmly believe that a greater appreciation of the humanities does provide the ability to connect the dots and make ideas work where others would not be able to.

  6. Musical skill certainly does have its effects. A Stanford University study revealed that musical training “helps the brain work more efficiently in distinguishing split-second differences between rapidly changing sounds that are essential to processing language.” (
    Additionally, “studies have reported that kids assigned to receive musical training developed distinctive neural responses to music and speech” (
    Music is a medium of communication, and those who can learn to effectively communicate through music at a young age may be more adept at learning to appreciate and understand others’ communication later on in life.

  7. I think that this idea works for just about anywhere except high school. As it turns out high school is maybe the one spot where leadership really doesn’t matter at all to the students. As I read the first lines, I thought to myself how dumb this sounds. But after continuing, I think it has a little more sense than it did when I started. Many times in a piece of music, your right hand will be doing something completely different than the left hand. But, they both work in harmony to produce the desired result. It turns out that you need both the left hand, and the right hand to make anything that sounds good. Maybe our congressmen could take a lesson from that. If we play one hundred percent with our right hand, the music is too one sided, and too simple, and we get bored listening to it. So with this crisis, if one side does all the talking, and if they refuse to work together, I think we will be right back where we started if not in a few months, then we will in the coming years. We need a masterpiece of legislature right now to take control and get us out of the serious problems that we have dug ourselves into.

    Back to leadership. Being able to do multiple things at once that all work towards a common goal is an amazing leadership skill. Music teaches you that, but unless you do it in the real world, it won’t amount to anything. That is why the band president and the student body president are never the same person in high school.

  8. The way people experience music says a lot about who they are, which explains why people hear music so differently from one another. Within this article we read how some experience music almost visually, while others are focused more on the tambour of the sound. Some high achievers say music gives them an edge because it gives them an outlet for their creativity, others said it taught them that working harder will give them a leg up in competition.

    How music affects individuals has fascinated me for a long time because of my own unorthodox musical tastes. For a while I was frustrated at how music that could so deeply move me would leave others non-plussed and vice versa, but over time I’ve broadened my tastes to appreciate many types of music, and with this appreciation has come a knowledge that different life experiences lead to different perspectives and ways of expression. Each of these perspectives can be beautiful in its own right if one can look upon the expression without prejudice. For example; I used to hate rap and condemned it as a crude, unrefined form of musical expression. Then I was introduced to rap verse that transcended the topics of sex and drugs, and I realized how powerful the rhythmic spoken word can be at expressing complex ideas.

    These experiences have carried over into all other parts of my life. Music exploration has helped me become much more tolerant and open to ideals that I might have rejected based on my upbringing in Utah valley. It helps me to synthesize other points of view into my own, and trains me to decide when a new set of ideas holds greater merit than my current position.

    Additionally, musical training taught me that it’s ok to play a lone sometimes. Sometimes when I had an idea in orchestra, I just needed to play it in rehearsal and let the idea be judged on its merits. In choir or in orchestra, this was nerve racking to do at first, but eventually I became more confident and comfortable making musical suggestions to my peers and to the conductor, a skill that translates to almost all types of work environments. If the idea doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work, but the payoffs for contributing to the experience far outweigh the risks involved with suggesting that which will not work. Being willing to take risks in front of peers is a crucial trait of effective leadership, people follow leaders that have skin in the game.

    It is not hard for me to see how experiences like these could shape good leaders into who they are later in life. It’s not that music is a prerequisite for good leadership, nor does having these experiences automatically make one a good leader, but music can definitely cultivate the traits that make for effective leadership.

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