Good conduct – tuneful leadership

3 years ago I joined a choir. It was something I had considered for a bit and I happened to pass a poster on a lamp post in a village near home, while out cycling. The poster said the choir met once a fortnight for 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon, so I thought this was not too great a commitment.

I have always sung, but never in a choir, so this proved a challenge. Initially, I simply could not sing for 2 hours. However, with use – and learning to always have water at hand – my voice improved. The Leader was kindly and patient. One of the other altos took me under her wing and was very encouraging. (Contr)altos, for the uninitiated, sing lower than sopranos and don’t usually sing the tune, so hitting the right notes can be a considerable challenge – still one I don’t always meet! The first concert – occurring as it did after only about 6 rehearsals – was scary, involving audience, costume, getting on and off in the right order etc. But………. I survived and found the experience uplifting.

Back we came in the New Year to find our lovely M was no longer our leader. The story was that he was overcommitted and thus the choir would now be led by Leader 2. I was disconcerted by this news, given I was still finding my feet. Later, we discovered that M was seriously ill, hence his sudden withdrawal. Leader 2 was a different kettle of fish. He worked faster and tended to be more demanding. I struggled. In fact, I struggled so much I considered quitting. I decided to give it one last go and luckily my mentor alto was there that day. I told her how I felt and she persuaded me not to leave and said I needed to be more chilled about the whole thing. I persevered. Things got easier, but Leader 2 continued to be demanding and not always encouraging. However, I loved the material – Dylan, Beachboys, Grease, show tunes, Abba etc. My tastes are highbrow – as you can tell (-;

Concerts and rehearsals came and went. M returned for a summer concert only, and it was wonderful to see him looking so much better. Back we came in the autumn. Leader 2 continued to be temperamental and a number of people fell by the wayside. Last spring, Leader 3 – female – stepped in for one rehearsal and concentrated on the Grease medley in which, she had clearly been briefed, the tricksy rhythms and words were eluding us. Womp-bop-a-looma-a-womp-bam-boomremember Travolta and Olivia Newton John? It’s harder than you might think. Leader 3 had a lightness of touch which was refreshing. She was funny, specific, exacting – but above all encouraging. Our rendition of Grease started to sound vaguely akin to the original. I wanted to glue Leader 3 to the floor and never let her go.

So what does this say about leadership?

  1. You need to have faith in those you lead – and show it.       If you can do that, they are likely to want to deliver.
  2. You need to temper your demands with humour and sensitivity.
  3. You must walk your talk. It’s no good demanding punctuality if you are late yourself. Choir Leader 2 made this mistake.

The choir underscores for me the need – above all – to be positive and encouraging with those you lead. When those involved are doing whatever it is for fun, this is crucial, but a lot of these lessons apply equally to the workplace, where we know engagement – psychological commitment – affects the bottom line. This approach is contagious too, in the best way. I now encourage new and wobbly members and aim to reassure them they will get there – in time.

Recently, we have welcomed another new leader. He is upbeat, sparky, funny, approachable, optimistic and encouraging. Suddenly, where before we had none, we now have some (always hard to come by) tenors. Probably not a coincidence. As with workplaces, word gets around!

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