Honing leadership skills to the sound of music

This article was published in The Straits Times on 9 February 2015.

THE senior management of OCBC Bank had to face the music last month.

But no, it wasn't a grilling by shareholders or financial regulators, but rather an innovative and unusual leadership programme involving a local orchestra.

In all, 110 senior OCBC staff experienced classical music played by the Metropolitan Festival Orchestra (MFO). They were not seated as an audience, but among the musicians who played string, woodwind and brass instruments.

The idea is to show how teamwork and collaboration can produce memorable results - in music just as in the business world.

In this case, the lesson was learnt to the tunes of classical music by great composers such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart.

A few members of the senior bank management, including chief executive Samuel Tsien, also had the opportunity to wield the baton and demonstrate their different capabilities and leadership styles while conducting the orchestra, OCBC said in a statement.

OCBC was the first local bank to undergo the Sounds of Leadership programme, offered by MFO, the Singapore independent professional symphony orchestra, and its associate conductor Ian Woodward, who is also a professor at Insead.

Prof Woodward is the director of Insead's flagship Advanced Management Programme, and his research and teaching work focuses on exceptional leadership and communication. He has had experience conducting such workshops in Insead as well as multinational corporations worldwide.

Mr Eric Ong, OCBC head of emerging business, welcomed the programme, saying it was "definitely one of the most memorable learning experiences" for him.

"It certainly served as a good reminder on the importance of collaboration, how different musical instruments in a symphony come together to produce beautiful music, and in the context of the business world, this is how different partners and stakeholders work together to achieve great results. Naturally, leadership is the key to achieving this success," he said.

Prof Woodward said: "By immersing executives in an orchestra, the programme makes use of the universality of music to let them observe how technical excellence, teamwork, a sense of purpose and the spirit of performance can come together to create high performance results."

This is the motivation behind the programme, as seeing, hearing and feeling the effects of different leadership styles is a "real and memorable" way of learning.

Three two-hour sessions were held for OCBC. The programme ended on a high note with the senior management team performing a chorus accompanied by the orchestra.

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