|Posted by Tiffany Chang on February 21, 2021 at 9:50 AM|
Title has nothing to do with leadership. Leadership has everything to do with trust.
When we are given the privilege of being the leader, we enjoy many perks: the bigger office, higher salary, fancy title, name on dressing room door, people bringing us coffee, the authority to tell others what to do. All those perks come with a cost. When we are faced with danger and threat, leaders are expected to protect those in their charge, even if it means sacrificing their own comfort and safety.
This could be standing up for someone who was treated poorly, showing solidarity, vouching for a respectable wage, keeping the peace within the group by breaking up fights or ensuring accountability. Or simple doing what you say you're going to do. In doing so, you might end up being bullied yourself, jeopardizing your job or end up in conflict with others - but your people know they can count on you to have their backs.
When someone takes all the leadership perks, tells us what to do, but does not own the responsibilities that come with it or are the first to retreat from danger - we don't view their leadership as legitimate. We don't feel it is fair and our trust in the anthropological tenets of the relationship becomes violated. The group becomes lost about who they could trust. It becomes every person for themselves, always looking behind our backs, and the quality of work culture suffers. We see this in many large musical institutions where dissent simmers and then eventually boils over dramatically. And we wonder what went wrong, but the clues have been there all along.
At the same time, we all can name someone we know who would do anything to back those to their left and right, someone who shows empathy toward our circumstances, regardless of what position they have. Those are the leaders among us, hiding in plain view. They are the glue that's holding us together. And we'd be willing to follow them wherever they go. We want to keep them as a leader because it's good for us and in our best interest. Give those people more credit. And stop giving credit to those who enjoy the perks without actively caring for those in their charge.
One of my heroes, Simon Sinek, often explains that "in the military, they give medals to those who sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, they give bonuses to those who sacrifice others so that they may gain." The latter definitely resonates with me about the music industry, in all its celebrity and power-sensitive culture glory.
Consider this: if your organization were in jeopardy today, what would your boss do to protect you and your colleagues? Does that make you feel safe? Or does it send chills down your spine? Who else around you would stand up for you?
Conductors have the responsibility to create a culture of trust and safety in the work environment. By first ensuring the musicians are cared for in all ways possible, legitimizing their leadership by standing between threats and their musicians. And the result is a group of musicians that spend less time being afraid and more time working together.
I hope we can stop confusing the position of a leader with being a leader - and recognize the leaders among us.