These are some ideas I found in Mark Miller’s The Heart of Leadership, that I think apply to the choral conductor. Miller points out that leaders “see the world differently and they cultivate different character traits.” It emphasizes a leaders need to be honest, loyal, dependable, etc., and says that “leaders who don’t possess these traits and others like them, are disqualified before they start.”
The Heart of Leadership is built around five lessons:
Think Others First. ”To think others first is not primarily about what you do—it is about how you think. It’s all about what’s in your heart. How can I Serve this person?” This is easily seen in much of the literature by James Jordan published by GIA for choral directors. Because a choir’s instrument is their voice, it is true that they tend to do better when they feel the loyalty and concern of their director.
Expect the Best. ”Many people in the world see events as they are; leaders are different in that they see things that could be. And the future they see is always a better version of the present. We believe we can make a difference; we think we can make the world, or at least our part of it, better. Leaders are generally more optimistic than non-leaders.” Visionary, passionate and optimistic leadership is often what draws singers to a particular choir and keeps them there.
Respond With Courage. ”Practice taking action. As you go through your day, ask yourself what action would be appropriate here? Your missed opportunities are often no big deal in isolation. They are, however, cumulative.” It isn’t too hard to find directors of great musical skill who lack the leadership to move their group’s success beyond their own routine rehearsals and concerts. It takes this kind of courage to extend the group further into the community in its music making.
Hunger for Wisdom. ”A hunger for wisdom fueled by a commitment to lifelong learning will equip you for whatever lies ahead. Be open to input, new ideas, contrarian opinions, and views. Establish a network of counselors to call on for their advice and wisdom.” I have often admired this trait of commitment to lifelong improvement and learning from the conductors I think most highly of.
Accept Responsibility. ”Assume responsibility for your actions and the action of those you lead. It is about being accountable for actions and outcomes—yours and others.” This is another great difference I hear in discussions with different conductors. There are those who tend to blame the situation, the demographics of the singers in their choir, or other factors as compared to other directors and their choirs; and there are those whose groups sound great no matter what the circumstances.