I had another one of those “hurry up and wait” times tonight, and while I waited, I listened to the public-radio series Leonard Bernstein: An American Life.

I guess we don’t usually think of it in these terms, but the great conductors probably have a lot to teach us about leadership. They have to be strong and confident enough to mold and shape and cast the vision of the composer. They have to get extremely creative, often temperamental, very diverse personalities to join forces for the common good. They have to know when to emphasize one section or player’s strength and when to de-emphazise the same player’s weaknesses. They have to keep the show going. They often have to discipline their people. In a lot of ways, conductors are some of the best – or worst – examples of leadership.

According to the WFMT website…

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) was the last classical musician of our time to be a household name; no one since has achieved the level of fame with the general public as Bernstein. Bernstein became an American icon not only because of his ability to conduct and compose, but also because of the power of his personality and his passion to communicate, through music, about life, love and the human condition.

But for all his greatness, Bernstein like many leaders, was not immune to the dark side of life. His depression, illnesses, and addictions affected him in many ways.

Perhaps like many leaders, Bernstein’s greatest monster was his sense of his own importance, and that’s the idea that hooked me tonight as I listened. Stephen Sondheim said of Leonard Bernstein…

He wanted to be important and it got in the way of his work.

That quote illustrates powerfully the need for those of us who fancy ourselves as leaders to remember John the Baptist’s words

Jesus must become more important, while I become less important.