The Rhythm Of Leadership (even if you’re tone deaf)

“Where you lead/I will follow/Anywhere that you tell me to…”  Ah, Carole…I was a rabid follower – Carole, James, Laura, CSN&Y.  I followed them (and others) because I loved their music, their words, the way I felt when I sang along (some of my fondest memories include sitting in my friend Allie’s house eating Cadbury wafers and singing..she had a pure, clear soprano; I had a rich and sincere baritone, sorta).

I followed a speaker at a peace rally in NY after the Kent State shootings. He spoke Spanish (I didn’t), but the passion and conviction of his words crossed the barrier of my linguistic ignorance (ok, he was cute too).  Following him to the subway to head home, we both got pipe-whipped by some indignant construction workers – the commitment I had to him almost justified the consequences.  I will admit it was embarrassing to have to stop at my pediatrician’s office for some salve before heading to a production of ‘Damn Yankees’ at school that night (the closest I will ever come to being a baseball player).

I followed one of my professors from grad school as avidly as one might a guru.  He was so incredibly smart, funny, intuitive (a good quality for a psychologist) and persistently coaxed me to figure out how I was going to best care for my two splendilicious babies and myself in the face of some very real personal challenges.  He encouraged me to figure out how to re-take control of my life.  How do you thank someone for that?  Live your life well and pay it forward, I guess.

And I followed my boss for 22 years.  I was inspired by his confidence in me, relentless teasing, incredible work ethic, integrity and generous heart.  He wanted results and accountability and expected more of himself than anyone else, which somehow drove me to try and keep pace.  Lucky for me, he is now a dear friend who has also retired from the firm.

There is a nexus between the leadership qualities I learned from those whom I have followed and the music that plays in my mind all the time.  There is a rhythm to the dynamics between and among people, a way that we try to maximize the strengths and talents of our people so that together, the orchestration is full and rich.

If you supervise people and as such are responsible for leading others, do you ever think about those who you once followed?  Why did you follow them?  What were the qualities that you most admired in the people who shaped your professional success and enhanced your development?  What were the deal breakers?  If you strove to emulate any one of them, what elements would be of greatest importance to you?  Imagine holding the conductor’s baton gently and assuredly in your hand as the orchestra warms up.  Your job is to make the music of your work days reflective of the talents of those waiting for your guidance, watching for your timing and interpretation of the notes.  I was once compared to Mr. Holland, the character from “Mr. Holland’s Opus” – a higher compliment could never have been bestowed upon me in the world of work.  At least not for me.  The sections of the orchestra parallel the unique talents of those with whom you work.  Lead them with the qualities and dedication evidenced in those you once followed.  The magic of that music will always remain in your head – and theirs.