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Monday Morning Notes
May 30, 2011
from the desk of Chuck Violand... 

Good Monday morning, <<First Name>>—  

         In Part II of Second Fiddles I use a story told by a well known orchestra conductor to illustrate how the rhythm and harmony of an organization are frequently managed by the people who fill the sideman role.
         As a salute to those of you reading this who are sidemen in your respective organizations: congratulations on the invaluable contributions you make to them!  They wouldn’t be the same without you. 



by Chuck Violand... 

          Someone who knows a great deal about the subject of “second fiddles” is Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic orchestra. In his book The Art of Possibility Ben tells the story of when he played in a string quartet with Robert Koff, the founding second violinist of the Julliard String Quartet. Ben came away from the experience convinced the real leader of the string quartet was actually the second violin. Not because he dominated the play, but because his part had all the inner rhythms and harmonies, influencing the rest of the quartet through the clarity and authority with which he played. In other words, he led the quartet from his role as “second fiddle”.
           The same can be said for accomplished “second fiddles” in business. Both first and second roles carry out highly complicated pieces as they perform. In business “first fiddles” instinctively sense the presence of their sidemen and trust they will be there to fill in the details, pick up the pieces, and do the things necessary to help their front man, and the organization, succeed.
            At the same time the sideman trusts that his front man has his best interests at heart, that he knows where he’s headed, and that he’ll do whatever is necessary to make sure he doesn’t drive the business over a cliff.
          In business, just as in music, sidemen are accomplished professionals. They know it’s their strength and talent that helps their front man be a better business leader. Without their constant support their lead man might just be a soloist standing alone on a stage.
            Within even the most accomplished relationships between front men and sidemen there can exist a dynamic tension. Sidemen are sometimes frustrated because they don’t get credit for the contributions they make, and front men may wonder why their sidemen don’t show more initiative. Ironically it’s often this very tension that makes the two of them so good together. After all if both had center stage at the same time one would inevitably suck all the bright out of the spotlight, leaving the other standing in the dark.
            Sidemen do their jobs best when they offer informed support to their lead man, not when they just tell him what they think he wants to hear or when they follow him blindly. Just as Ben Zander mentioned above, they are often the ones with the inner rhythms and harmony of the organization; the ones who bring clarity and authority not only to their role, but to the role of the lead man, as well. Typically they are among the few within the organization who can offer candid advice and opinions to the leader without fear of reprisal or earning the word “former” in front of their title.   
          Business leaders work best with sidemen who have a deep inner strength and confidence in their position.  This is when front men feel least threatened by the candid, and often times blunt, input their sideman may provide.
          If you’re in the role of a sideman and someone asks you what your job is, tell them with pride that you’re a “second fiddle”. Let them know you’re happy with your role because it’s from that position that you just might be helping to determine the direction of the company. 


You have our advance permission to republish this article as long as you do not sell it. The author's name and Web address must appear in all reprinted articles. 

June 16-17, 2011

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