Come on! Feel it! Let it go!

– finding the balance between trust and interference in leadership


Managers, conductors, parents, soccer coaches, etc. continuously ask themselves the question: “How active do I need to be in leading my team? And – on the other hand and in the same time – how much can I trust them as specialists (yes, our children are also specialists!) to know what to do once I give them clear directions?”

I remember one particularly remarkable leaders who had taken part in a Pratobello Workshop in Norway who had pushed this topic to its limits. He was a very successful, well educated, and charismatic CEO of an international firm. He was rhetorically convincing, demonstrated healthy confidence, and made his expectations clear- the prototype of a successful manager.

As per the usual for our seminars, he had no prior experience or any sort of background in classical music (no idea if he had ever been to a concert either… 😉 ), however, he could perfectly depict his vision of a short musical piece to us musicians- a pretty picture, which, for us fit perfectly into the music. We could hardly wait to portray his vision for the piece using our expertise. It was a peaceful and beautiful piece by J.S. Bach. He gave us a convincing downbeat (at the second attempt…), and we were off! Then all of a sudden…

As we progressed through the calm quiet piece, he began to push us. He kept coming closer to us, all the while yelling phrases in attempts to motivate us: “Come on! Feel it! Let it go!”  The wonder that we had initially felt at the beginning of the workshop was fading and dwindling more and more until finally after a few minutes, we had stopped playing completely and refused to play on.

Naturally, he was confused! He had given his best, put all that he had into it, given us clear expectations, motivated us, and believed that he could pull the best out of us and really push us to our limits- and this had resulted in the complete opposite! We had no room left to work!

In this special situation, we were able to explain to him immediately what had happened. We explained to him that it is necessary that he trusts us as professionals to do our work well. Of course it is necessary to present a clear vision and give direction, but we ultimately need to be the ones to interpret what he asks for.

In this setting we could test how much energy he needed to put into his team, but also test how much he could actually step back and simply let us – still observing closely – do our work. Above all, he could experience that we could create a spectacular performance all together, without him being the one to do the whole work – as he had previously believed.

After a short while he had experienced and indeed found the balance between the necessary inputs, suggestions, demanding initiations on the one hand, and the joy of trust in his team on the other. He could still take a step back and give us the room to work our own abilities, expertise and creativity into the project, and he would still be in charge and focused on that. In the end, this “tough manager” was moved to tears from what we had accomplished all together and the teamwork with which we worked.

It was clear to us that he had the same situation in his company: He would hire the best highly-motivated personnel, who, in the beginning, were ready to follow his directions and put out their best work. He thought that he needed to run a tight ship and give strict direction in order to get the most out of his team. Then, without fail, a few months later they would quit. He knew this was his problem, but had not managed to find out what the appropriate balance felt like up to this experience.

As workers, we want to understand what is expected and required and we want to – we have to! – be challanged. However, we also want the chance to be able to prove ourselves and to show that we really are the best that one could hire. We want new impulses and surprises, but also need the space to show off what we are capable of and bring our own creativity into the project. Because only in an environment where we are free to express our abilities, creativity, and experience actively to joyfully work towards the vision given to us by our leader – until we have fully exhausted ourselves… and then we go celebrate! J

Give us clear guidelines and monitor closely – and we will accomplish great things together!


Wishing you all this with swinging regards,


Florian Schönwiese