A Late Quartet: Lessons for Top Teams From Beethoven’s 131

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I’ve always felt chamber music offers a rich metaphor, full of insight, that can be applied to any team seeking high-performance flow. Last night I watched the movie A Late Quartet staring Phillip Seymour Hoffman. After a classical string quartet’s 25 years of success, they face the strain of changing roles and life transitions.

What I like most about this film is how we discover the unique roles in the quartet – First Violin, Second Violin, Viola and Cello interact in live give and take, to make the music bigger than the parts.

If the team leader is the “First Violin,” in reality, it is the Second Violin that connects the dots and links the vision/melody of the First Violin to the others and ensures the fabric of the entire piece comes together.

This in many ways is how the number two leader in a company can best serve the CEO and the larger organization. As in the Late Quartet, there is no shame in being a strong Second Violin.  But sooner or later, a person of great talent will want the privilege and benefit of being first chair.

The “glue” of sorts that keeps a highly talented team together for any length of time is mutual respect and genuine care for the other person.  Egos will inevitably rage for their turn in the first-chair, it is human nature.  Resolution is not always folks staying together.   The Late Quartet is a look inside the human heart and exposes the motives, fears, insecurities, and triumphs common  for a team of any type that is trying to accomplish something greater than themselves.

My take-aways, outside of thoroughly enjoying a well crafted story, are:

1. Keeping a top team together is about give and take. Every role, whether second violin or cello, has a responsibility to help each other become better…to “unleash the passion.”

2. Everything works better when there is mutual respect.

3. A great leader constructs a way for the second violin to have a solo, share in the spotlight, have a moment of recognition vs. seeing shared recognition as a threat.


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