The Sounds of Music Offer A Lesson in Learning

A feedback culture helps both employees and organizations reach their objectives.


In the office hustle to perform and produce and shine, I think it’s easy for managers to let the strategic practice of giving constructive feedback fall by the wayside. But it shouldn’t. It can’t. The development and improvement of employee performance needs this – no one is perfect. Organizations need this – success is constrained when critical information is siloed away from individuals who could use it. And, music needs this.

The value of feedback – in this case, to music – played out in front of me recently at an open rehearsal led by a conductor I’ve had the great chance to see a number of times directing Chicago’s world-renowned symphony orchestra. This last time, however, was my first time seeing him as teacher.

On this particular evening Chicago Symphony Orchestra Music Director Riccardo Muti led the Civic Orchestra of Chicago – a pre-professional program for emerging leaders in music – through Verdi’s ‘Four Seasons’ ballet. As part of the training program, these young professionals get the opportunity to learn from some of the most talented conductors in music. These musicians know the music – have played it and other pieces beautifully – but here was Muti, considered a king among Verdi conductors – helping the young musicians interpret Giuseppe Verdi with even more precision.

Muti knew his audience and the feedback, as well as the manner in which he gave it, would create just the right level of engagement. He offered criticism where refining was necessary – singing phrases to summon what he had in mind. He offered praise where he heard strengths, but he wasn’t grandiose or insincere. He expressed his confidence in the soloists before it was their time to play. He asked questions. He was aware of his purpose in this unique professional context. He was persistent in getting the intensity, the pacing, the feel of the music where it needed to be. I appreciated every moment of it.

Far be it from me to overstate how much of an impact a couple hours of quality feedback had on the young musicians – who are already quite accomplished. But I don’t diminish it. Not at all. They are accomplished after all. That doesn’t come from out of nowhere and is only sharpened when their development isn’t left to occur by chance or in a vacuum but is both sought after and received. The players, unique pieces of a whole coming together to work in concert and give us something beautiful grow from a culture that promotes constructive feedback. The same be said of us all, in many contexts, including work.


Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email