The story of American violinist, Joshua Bell and his one-hour violin performance at a Washington D.C. subway station in early 2007 has been told, analyzed, and discussed in videos, reflections, and even sermons across religious denominations. A few year's after the event, a children's book depiction of the social experiment was published, The Man with the Violin. I recently purchased this book to read with my children, and I was struck by the creative and powerful imagery of the illustrator, Dušan Petričić.
During the one-hour performance, over 1000 people passed Bell as he played a few pieces of Bach. Only a handful of the passersby paused or stopped for more than a few seconds, and an even smaller number offered a few coins in support. What struck me most about the children's book depiction was in the illustrator's use of color. The violinist (Bell), the young boy, and by extension- his mother, are displayed in full color, energized and brought to life by the music, while everyone else in the busy subway station who were either unaware, oblivious, or too much in a rush to sense or notice Bell's performance are depicted in black and white.
For me, this story highlights how we are all destined to miss out on the beauty (and pain) of our world when our eyes and ears are closed or not tuned-in to our surroundings.
The beginning of the Exodus story provides numerous lessons for leadership; here I enumerate three. After Moses escaped from Pharaoh's palace, married, and settled down to a serene and isolated life of herding sheep, he begins an unexpected journey that eventually brings him back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and lead his people out of slavery:
Herding Sheep: There is a tradition that while shepherding, Moses was careful to give personal attention to each sheep according to his or her needs. Great leaders pay attention; they look after their flock as a group, while simultaneously caring for and tending to the needs of each individual.
Burning Bush: While out in the wilderness, Moses is confronted by a thorn bush that is on fire, who's branches are not consumed by the fire. One commentary notes that this burning bush had been burning for decades, yet no passerby noticed or stopped to discover the oddity. Moses turned off the road to understand the nature of the burning bush, and the rest, as we know, is history. Great leaders pay attention; what others fail to notice, they have the awareness and the care to pause and perceive the pain, the beauty, and the opportunity that stands before them.
The Exodus: After much deliberation and coaxing, Moses decides that it is not simply enough to be aware and sensitive to the pain of his suffering brothers in Egypt, but he decides that he also needs to take action and confront the oppressors. Great leaders convert awareness into action; others may notice, but do not act, while leaders are fueled by what they see and are urged to action.
Great leaders are those who spend their time paying close attention; they sense and tune in to the musical notes- the highs and the lows that emanate from the world and those with whom they come into contact with, and from there, they spring into action to uplift, support, laugh, cry, inspire, and lead.