White Sheets and Granting Greatness


I finished a speech at a health care conference last week, took questions, then had time for one of my own. I asked:  “What will you take away, what will you think or do differently?”  A man raised his hand:  “On Monday, I’m going to ask my team what I can do to help them?”  His tone said it was a great a-ha.  His brilliance – like most brilliance – spoke to common sense, joyfully rediscovered.  Haven’t we all counseled a friend, child, or a girlfriend or boyfriend with the question-exclamation: “Well, why don’t you just ask them?”   Duh!

The next day I was delightedly reading The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life.  On page 73, Benjamin Zander, conductor and author, inserts this question as a chapter subtitle:  How much greatness are we willing to grant?  It’s a chapter in which he urges conductors – of musicians or others – to have the guts-and-humility to invite them to shape the performance and shape the conducting. 

I like the two attitudinal shifts implied.  First, it’s not the leader who is charged with greatness, not about the conductor who, ironically makes no music herself.   Zander recognizes that before him may be seated silent players who have studied the composer, genre, or the very piece he is conducting.  Or, they may hear in their section of the orchestra something he can’t hear from his podium.  At my staff room table, there are always people who have executed tactics better than I.  And people who could not just do their work but help me to lead.  But do I come with that mentality all the time?  No.  But, I’ll aspire to again.

Second, I love this idea of “granting greatness.”  If the leader posits greatness, expects it, looks for it, wants it, grant it then it’s 100 times more likely to appear.  I think our greatest failure as leaders and parents is coming into each engagement with too low expectations, too little belief, too much giving up on the greatness of every person at the table.  The leader’s first job is the job of faith: to believe in their greatness, even – no especially – when it’s not easy to do.

Zander uses “white sheets,” a blank page left on each musician’s music stand to elicit their insights on his conducting.  If you conduct a team, you could put “white sheets” at each place at the staff meeting table with the heading from my friend from health care:  “I’m going to ask my team what I can do to help them.”

It’s a way to show faith in their greatness, as well as your own, to

Lead with your best self!