The last two styles of leadership that Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee list in “Primal Leadership” are Pacesetting and Commanding, and they advise to apply with caution. As far as the leadership of conductors go – I couldn’t agree more.
The concept of the Pacesetting style, is that a leader leads by doing the work him/herself to the highest standards and at the desired pace. This is not really applicable to the conductor, because he/she is the only person on stage NOT making any sound. We could possibly view those conductors who constantly sing along with their choirs, or who over-demonstrate as pacesetters. Most teachers of conducting stress the importance of not singing along so that the conductor can listen intently enough. Though the occasional demonstration can be good, if used too much it simply becomes the conductor showing off his/her voice doing things that the choir doesn’t know how to imitate anyway (unless it is a high-level group with well-trained, experienced voices) and they will most likely attempt by yelling or worse.
The Commanding, or Coercive style of leadership is a more common problem in the world of conducting. To judge by the tales told by older musicians, we are doing much better than conductors were a generation or two ago, especially in the choral world. The orchestra world has had a particularly difficult time ridding itself of tyrant conductors, as eluded to in the video in my first post on leadership styles and conducting, but the choral podium is not free of this style either.
Unfortunately, I seems to hear most about harsh, brow-beating conductors from singers from children’s, youth, and high-school choirs. This is so damaging to these young people, and usually more an issue of the conductors ego than any musical goal.
Since the singers instrument is the body, which is inexorably connected to and affected by emotion, the commanding style rarely yields desired results. ”SING IT IN TUNE,” or even worse “STOP SINGING FLAT” will tend to cause wore intonation problems. The more a conductor yells at a choir the worse they sing because fear and anxiety cause physical reactions that affect the voice – no matter how hard they want to please the tyrannical twit up in front.
In short, choral conductors need to learn how to deal with their frustrations on the spot. How to step back when the choir just can’t seem to get it right, and try a completely different approach. Singers need to feel emotionally safe in order to contribute all that their voice has to give. This kind of trust is built over time and can be destroyed in one frustrated moment, if the conductor snaps.