Tag Lines, Principles and Leadership

AlanDid you ever sort of know something but didn’t realize exactly what until it became so clear that you couldn’t ever not know it again?

I love when that happens.

One of my great joys in life is singing with a symphonic chorus known for both performing the masterworks and commissioning composers who are still very much alive to write new music for us.

Through hundreds of rehearsals and dozens of performances, I reveled in the recently-retired music director’s commitment to excellence, community and new music. (OK, so sometimes the new music was an acquired taste, difficult to appreciate at first, worth it in the end.)

Even though I experienced his guiding principles week after week, he was, appropriately, too focused on leading rehearsal to talk much about them. And he’s definitely not someone to turn them into a tag line.

It wasn’t until his retirement party that we learned about the file folder he brought to every board meeting for twenty-seven years, the one with the words “we take risks” written on the cover.

So that explains the coffee mugs. 

So that’s how he turned an ensemble that was nearly bankrupt and on the verge of folding into one that’s vibrant and respected in the region and throughout the country.

Then the big ah-ha.

So his utter clarity of principle, that’s what made it such a treat to trust his leadership, even through the struggle of learning new commissions, especially the really hard ones, when we only had handwritten snippets of music that seemed impossible to read, let alone sing.

Guiding principles support leadership.

Guiding principles support leadership when they’re based on character strengths.

Guiding principles support leadership when those strengths are expressed in the world as values.

Guiding principles support leadership even when they’re not emblazoned on coffee mugs or turned into tag lines.

Guiding principles support leadership when they are lived, week after week, project after project, interaction after interaction.

And every once in a while, really terrific guiding principles are scrawled on the covers of tattered file folders.
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