business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Bad things happen in this world and sometimes those things involve people we know or even admire. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do about those bad things, but we can always take time to think about how we react and how we talk about those moments, especially when the conversation is extremely public.

Allow me to explain. Late last week the New England Conservatory fired conductor Ben Zander. Many of you may know Zander if you have had the wonderful opportunity to ever hear him speak at a conference. His topic (following on his book) is about “The Art of Possibility;” essentially how to inspire those around you to strive for greatness. His speeches are a staggering moment that you can easily remember for years after seeing them. (MNB reported in a presentation he did to the old CIES at its New York summit in 2009.)

And that’s not even what he’s best at doing. Zander is a world-class orchestral conductor who finds a way to bring the emotion of classical music to both his audience and his musicians. What makes Zander so incredible has been his work with young artists and that, sadly, is what cost Zander his job. According to numerous news reports, Zander helped bring a convicted child molester to the New England Youth Orchestra as a videographer. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

The story gets even worse. Zander reacted with disbelief about the concern about videographer because he’s gone nearly 20 years since his conviction and incarceration. Zander was quoted saying the situation was tragic, but was referring to his own firing.

Now there are many ways of looking at this and none of them are good. First, as business people we all need to learn from the tone-deaf quality of Zander’s reaction. He could have talked about the power of rehabilitation and redemption. He could have talked about the extra care he personally took to make sure none of his young musicians were ever in harm’s way. Instead, he reflected on his own dismissal. Every business should read up on this story to get a classic lesson on the wrong way to react. Ben Zander, one of the world’s most gifted public speaker, just showed how to find the worst possible words at the worst possible time.

Second, let’s think about redemption and rehabilitation. I like to believe in both, but it strikes me that the single worst place for a convicted child molester is back in the company of children. People can reform, but I don’t think past drug abusers should become pharmacists or alcoholics should become bartenders. In the New England case, the “reformed” child molester could have found many places to shoot his videos that didn’t involve children. Again, this is a lesson for business: think twice.

But I must conclude with a personal perspective. My son happens to be a classical musician who, six years ago, had the great honor of performing in a national youth orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York. When my son talks about that experience he says he loved the venue, the music (Tchaikovsky’s 5th) and the artists he accompanied. But what stands out most was the leadership of the conductor, who helped my son understand Tchaikovsky’s message as he drew the most incredible music from the ensemble.

That conductor was Ben Zander.

(In case you are wondering, there was no videographer.)

And that’s why my perspective on the story changes. I can’t write about this remotely, like we all tend to do with bad news of all kinds. If I felt, even in retrospect, that Zander had put my son in danger, a blog would be my last option about this case. Rather I’d be looking for my Louisville Slugger to have a conversation about possibility.

It’s a complex world out there filled with bad people. We can’t ever eliminate that, but we can do everything possible to make sure we make the good choices that keep the bad at bay. And when bad things happen, we need to find the words to convey our sadness, not our indignation.

That’s not possibility. That’s the only way to go.’

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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