leading-musiciansSinging A capella, (for the non-musically inclined that means without piano or other accompaniment) is rarely associated with leadership. That is unfortunate. Leadership lessons abound from putting one’s voice out there for the world to hear with no background music to cover up mistakes. Singing A capella is a metaphor for the challenges a leader faces when attempting to lead an organization.

I’ve had the privilege of experiencing multiple singing experiences, and several of those were A capella. The critical issue about leading and singing without support has to do with one’s confidence. If I were an acclaimed and accomplished opera singer, letting my singing voice be heard without something to hide behind would probably not even raise a thought.

But I am neither acclaimed nor accomplished. I sing because I love it. I’m allowed to sing in some choruses because I can carry a tune—and because I have a very deep singing voice. Baritones and basses are always in short supply in every chorus or choir.

A colleague who knows my passion for music recently sent me this clip of an A capella choir. If you have 30 seconds, just listen:

Listen to the teamwork—moving together in perfect harmony and unison, responding to each other, watching for cues, jumping in at just the right time. And the product: astonishing excellence.

I only needed to listen to a few seconds, and I was entranced. It was lovely, harmonious, inspirational– and totally in sync—like the greatest teams. There is a definite connection between excellent teamwork and excellent musicianship!

Here’s another brief example of great musical teamwork:

Making Beautiful Music with Your Team

Over the holidays, I wrote an article about teamwork and harmony. As I wrote that article, I realized that my musical training and experiences have been transformational in my life—and in my leadership style and effectiveness.

What is the unique ingredient in singing in perfect harmony with a chorus? Musical dazzling? No. Exceptional talent? No. Then what? It is the simplest skill of all: LISTENING.

If you are not excruciatingly listening to the person beside you, behind you and in front of you—you cannot direct your voice to add to the whole versus detracting from it.

But that’s not all. The other key ingredient, other than basic musical skill is watching and paying attention. You can listen intently and exquisitely—but if you are not carefully watching the director and following his or her lead, you may jump in too soon or too late. Your eyes, ears, brain and every sense you own must be totally attuned to every signal, every movement, and every sound.

Leadership isn’t much different. If you aren’t constantly listening, watching, attending, responding to and following the lead of the people who you want to follow you, you cannot be effective.

You might lead but without the listening, following, attending, you could just find yourself leading alone with no one following you—and no accompaniment to hide your mistakes.