In Management, Nothing Is Fabulous

Peter Drucker, and many others, have often used symphony orchestra conductors as a metaphor for the role of a CEO/leader in the corporate world.

That said, in all the many daily lists, blogs, and tweets regarding “what great leaders do every day” and the many “attributes of a great leader” articles, there is one management skill of great conductors that never gets mentioned, metaphorically or otherwise, and that is . . . their doing of nothing.

Henry Mancini was perhaps the best example of this. You never saw a guy do so much nothing in your life. Very sweet, very pleasant, very charming, but . . . he never really said anything, and he never really waved a white stick around either. And you never heard an orchestra sound so good in your life. Insert sound of head-scratching here.

This brings us to an element of management technique and theory that doesn’t get anywhere near enough ink or attention: simply stated, nothing . . . is fabulous.

When you are in power and you are in the room, everyone has to take time and energy to allow for that. If you are in power and you open your mouth, everyone has to stop working to listen to you, react to whatever you said, and treat it as an important statement. After a certain point, the more managing you do, the less work actually gets done.

Unfortunately, our industrial culture places much more emphasis on what you do than on what you don’t do. Hard to get paid for doing nothing, yet it is one of the most important skills a manager can have.

Henry Mancini understood how to manage: Just write a good arrangement, i.e., just make it clear what you want other people to do, and get the hell out of the way.

For a manager, the biggest problem in using “The Mancini Method” is coping with the boredom and sense of loneliness it creates. Most of us want to be “part of the team.” And what’s point of having power if you can’t have the fun of exploiting it now and again?

When it comes to choosing between the positive and negative polarities of management, there is always a dark-side temptation that must be overcome: The ego — and the desire to justify one’s managerial existence and higher pay rate — relentlessly draws us to “do stuff,” and to see one’s “managees” as passive inert entities that must be constantly inspired, instructed, monitored, and acted upon. Eighty-five percent of all the conductors I played for embraced this negative polarity, and so the players had to scale back endlessly on their energy output to allow for the insertion of this surplus managerial energy.

Doing nothing requires the positive energies of trust and faith. Maintaining that calm state in the presence of all the fear-mongering that justifies the negative management polarity is hard. It’s a real test of one’s character.

Henry Mancini, and for that matter, all the top conductors, were masters of doing nothing. They did nothing, and in response, we filled that vacuum with our everything.

About the Author: @JustinLocke is a former Boston Pops bass player turned author and management philosopher. He is a regular contributor to Visit his website at

photo credit: Mateus Lunardi Dutra via photopin cc