Toscanini, Hemingway, and Effective CEOs Aspire Higher

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Toscanini, Hemingway And Effective CEOs Aspire Higher on Thursday, July 6, 2017.

Last week brought the release of yet another in a deservedly long line of biographies of the great Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1967), who dominated the international world of symphony and opera during the late 19th and early 20thcenturies. Throughout his career, Toscanini’s genius was lauded by music critics, audiences, and even colleagues, among them his contemporary, the French conductor Pierre Monteux (1875-1964), who said, “I had before me, simply, a man of genius, a conductor such as I had never seen in my life, a true revelation in the art of conducting and interpretation.”

But Toscanini had a different opinion of himself: “Every time I conduct the same piece I think how stupid I was the last time I did it.”

Later in the 20th century, Ernest Hemingway, who is also the subject of yet another recently released biography, wrote this epigram at the beginning of his short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”:

Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high…Close to its western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.

Both statements project the same message: be relentlessly self-critical and always aim higher.

Anyone who has ever walked down a corridor of a large office suite has undoubtedly seen an array of motivational posters lining the walls. Most of them urge the reader to strive to succeed. Few, however, urge taking it to the next level like that of Toscanini’s conducting or Hemingway’s symbolic leopard: never be satisfied with your achievement, push harder, and aspire higher.

Presenting is challenging, and it is becoming ever more challenging, with an almost daily parade of advancements in mobile and virtual presentation technologies. Practice and coaching help, but most overloaded business people relegate preparation time and effort to the bottom of their priority list, thinking, “I do this all the time”—risky business in business.

An investment banker recommended me for coaching IPO road shows to two companies, each headed by a veteran CEO. One declined, explaining, “I do this all the time”; the other signed on.

The banker concluded, “The people who need help the least seek it the most.”

This blog was originally published on Forbes as Toscanini, Hemingway And Effective CEOs Aspire Higher on Thursday, July 6, 2017.

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