Benjamin Zander

Have you heard of Ben Zander? Perhaps you have read his best-selling book, The Art of Possibility, written with his partner Rosamund? I can highly recommend it.

You would call his life a success story

He was a child music prodigy. As a young cellist at the age of 9 he came to the notice of the composer Benjamin Britten; at 12 he became the youngest ever member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, and at 15 he went off to study in Florence with the great Spanish virtuoso, Gaspar Cassadó.

Back in England he won an International Fellowship to Harvard and settled in Boston USA, eventually becoming conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra – with whom he made 5 CDs all listed in the Penguin Guide of the Best Recordings of the Past 20 years. He has conducted famous orchestras all over the world. His recording of Mahler 6th symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra was named by High Fidelity as the best classical recording of 2002. His recording of Mahler’s 9th Symphony was nominated for a Grammy Award.

But it’s not principally because of his music that I talk about him. He also travels the world lecturing to organizations on leadership.  He has been the keynote speaker four times at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and been presented with the Crystal award for “outstanding contributions in the Arts and international relations”. He has also received an award from the International Council for Caring Communities of the United Nations.

He is a wonderful charismatic speaker. You can catch various interviews on U-tube – e.g. or He would not say himself that his success gives him the right to speak; he would talk about what he has learned in his life. For example …

What does Ben Zander say about leadership?

You have to take a risk
We hate mistakes so we play it safe. Yet long term nothing could be more dangerous if our goal is to be insanely great at what we do. Zander suggests that instead of getting so dejected by mistakes, we instead exclaim loudly “Another mistake? How fascinating!”

It’s not about success or failure, it’s about contribution
Rather than asking “Will I be OK?”, “Will I win them over?” ask “How can I make a contribution?”  At this moment in time — right here right now — you are the gift and your message is the contribution. There is no “better,” there is only now.

The real power is in making others powerful
The truly great conductors are like any other great leader, they understand that their true power stems from their ability to make others powerful. The question to ask, then, is not “How good am I?” but “What makes this group lively and engaged?” How can I help them find for themselves what is there to be discovered, including the discovery of the possibilities that may be within them.

Don’t take yourself so g—damn seriously!
Lighten up, and you lighten up those around you. Move away from the calculating self, the self that lives in a world of scarcity, exaggerated threats, and deficiencies, and move toward a healthier attitude of sufficiency, wholeness, and possibilities. Rather than trying to resist and fight the river of life, move with a harmonious fluidity and grace, learning to join rather than resist the flow.

Give way to your passion
It is not enough to know a piece of music intellectually or to play it without any mistakes. When musicians truly get into the music and play it with heart and emotion audiences are moved beyond words.  You decide. You can hold back, aim not to make an error and play it perfectly or you can say “Screw it!—I’ll take a risk” and quite possibly, in your own small way change the world. That’s a message for life too.

Awakening possibility

Ben Zander is one of those outstanding people who inspires me and may inspire you too – his book and talks are all about awakening possibility. He is truly exceptional and at the same time perfectly imperfect: in other words, human. Now there’s a leadership quality…

Several of his themes are explored in my Leadership and Influence course coming up next month.

Leadership and Influence Workshop

In the two days of the workshop you will find the space and opportunity to awaken and develop the possibility hidden within you. It’s a chance for you to discover yourself; a personal journey to find your voice in the world and embody that authentic way of being that influences others.

If you have already studied NLP, you will find this expands and deepens what you already know in ways that may be unexpected.

If you are new to this kind of training, you have a treat in store – 2 days of self and other discovery, learning, discussion, practical activities and a lot of fun. Expect change – for that is what you will get!

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