How the right chemistry can make your organization more harmonious

Simon Crookall, president and CEO, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Simon Crookall knows more than a wee bit about chemistry. But the native of Scotland is especially interested in the kind that pertains to relationships, rather than mixing baking soda and vinegar in a test tube and watching it bubble over.

Crookall, president and CEO of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, has chemistry on his agenda as the orchestra this fall officially welcomes its new music director Krzysztof Urbanski ― who at age 28 is one of the youngest conductors of a large U.S. city orchestra.

One of only 17 full-time, yearround major orchestras in North America, the organization, with annual revenue of $28 million, has to find the answer to this question: Can a new leader and his charges make beautiful music together?

Crookall points to the careful work of a search committee as the crucial stage in developing the potential chemical success. To seek and identify potential candidates, a team should be composed of staff, board members and other representatives who can work together well ― and not like oil and water. The next steps include, as is often done traditionally, interviewing candidates, holding tryouts, narrowing down the choices and then making the final choice.

During the decision-making process, comparing the skill sets of candidates may be an easy job for the search committee, but getting below the surface to the inner person takes an ability to see intangible qualities that will come into play.

“Some of it is totally inexplicable,” Crookall says. “I’ve seen it many, many times for instance when you’ve had guest conductors that have been very successful at other places coming in and it just doesn’t work. It’s just not a good mix.”

Intangibles such as the strength of a handshake or the time length of eye contact add to the fundamentals that leave lasting impressions.

The empirical formula for good chemistry has to be a good fit for the culture. You look for talent and innate leadership factors. For example, some of the most successful communicators use their hands and facial expressions and don’t need to talk.

“But there are obviously times when you need to explain what is wanted and convey it in words so that it can be easily understood,” he says.

While he is not about to abandon the role verbal communication has in establishing the chemistry between a leader and his team, Crookall recommends you remember that each person is unique, that human relationships are different from person to person.

“You might find somebody very interesting and enjoyable to be with and your friends may say they don’t like him,” Crookall says.

Then on the other hand, don’t forget to consider the chemistry a new leader should develop for the organization if success is to be achieved.

“One of the things that attracted Urbanski to this orchestra was the players’ willingness and ability to adapt to his interpretations and his styles,” Crookall says. “He found them incredibly responsive.”

Employees who are receptive to trying new ideas will make you feel comfortable that your ideas will be taken seriously. In short, this type of chemistry opens the door to a collaborative relationship. Gaining respect quickly from an experienced workforce is a tribute to the leadership skills of the new executive and the workforce’s ability to be open to new ideas and suggestions.

“That’s another part of the relationship ― it’s having a willing and responsive partner in the arrangement,” he says. “If you do want to change something, if you do want to do something differently, their reaction of course should matter if they are to accept and embrace your ideas.”

How to contact: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, (317) 639-4300 or

Building bridges

Simon Crookall offers a new leader two tips about crossing hurdles with his or her new staff: Set expectations accordingly, but if those expectations aren’t being met, move on.

CEO and president of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for the past six years, Crookall puts it succinctly:

“Either build bridges and try to assimilate their ideas or just give it up and be done with it.”

A crucial factor is the time available. If you have the luxury of a liberal deadline, you can grow the relationship between management and employee.

“I think if you have an ongoing relationship and you come across some issues, obviously there are ways to start to work with them and start to explain your ideas more fully,” he says.

“But when pushed for time, like any manager, you have to assess what is achievable in the time available and eventually you set your expectations accordingly.”

When it’s a short deadline situation, you have to deliver quickly and adeptly.

“Go in there. Don’t waste any time. Get on with the music. Make sure you get to know everybody very quickly.

“That’s a very important part of management, not setting your expectations too high, but also not giving people too low expectations. Make them reachable goals,” Crookall says.

How to contact: Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, (317) 639-4300 or