You have all the credentials. You have a newly-minted music degree in one hand and a polished résumé in the other, but you wonder if you really have what it takes to be a great leader.
What does it take, exactly?
Some of us may have heard the words, "You're a born leader" in our lifetimes. Others of us may not. We may have been the kids that organized the game on the playground, assigning roles and explaining all the rules; or we may have been the kids who were perfectly content just being followers. We may have sought out opportunities to lead and make decisions, or been most comfortable in the middle of the crowd, safely out of the spotlight, and happy to not have all the responsibility.
Whatever your experience has been, know this: you don't have to be a "born leader" to be a great one. You can learn to be a great and effective leader; it just takes a little time and effort (like a lot of things in life, right?).
"The ability to learn is the most important
quality a leader can have."
- Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook (source)
If you're feeling like leadership isn't necessarily your strong suit or that category on your résumé could be a little more robust, this post is for you.
Today, I'm going to walk you through five simple things you can start doing this week to help you further develop your leadership skills and become a more effective director.
5 Effective Leadership Approaches for Church Music Directors
1. Be respectful
Perhaps this goes without saying, but being respectful of people’s time, thoughts, ideas, and opinions is a vital component of effective leadership. Start and end rehearsals on time and use your time together wisely. Avoid making fun of people (or sections), even if it’s all in jest. When dealing with individuals who always seem to have an opinion to share, thank them for sharing their ideas and thoughts and let them know you'll get back to them with a response later. This will give you the necessary time to think through your response, refine your communication style, and tailor it to the individual.
2. Strive for simplicity
This goes forall forms of communication, particularly spoken and written. When speaking, plan what you want to say ahead of time and rehearse it. Use bullet points to guide you and practice staying mentally focused as you go. Speak slowly and with intention. When writing, use simple words and short sentences to help keep things clear and concise while still being warm and friendly. People will appreciate your brevity and easy-to-understand communication style!
"Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers,
who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to
offer a solution everybody can understand."
- General Colin Powell (source)
3. Encourage creativity
One way to do this is by challenging and encouraging your choir or ensemble to approach things in new and different ways. Try new things together in rehearsal; experiment, ask for ideas and input, and reflect on it afterward as a group. How did that go? What worked well and what could be improved? Which way was simpler or more musical? Which way did you prefer and why? Ask lots of questions and listen to their answers. Give them time and space to experience things for themselves and reflect on them afterward. Creativity is all about finding multiple ways of looking at or doing things, and fostering this mindset among your choir can have real and lasting benefits, both within your group and outside of it.
4. Be positive, be you.
Having a positive attitude about the work you're doing promotes engagement and helps inspire those around you. If your choir members see your enthusiasm and excitement for what you’re doing, they’re likely to be more enthusiastic about it themselves. Also, be yourself in front of the group. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions, or share things from your personal life. In my experience, choir members will mirror what they see in the director, and if you appear guarded and distant and less than enthusiastic about your work, they are likely to respond in the same way. Community is built when we come together authentically, sharing our stories and weaving our lives together, little by little. Community is being responsible for one another and developing that level of mutual care and trust. And it starts with you.
5. Show your appreciation
Say “thank you.” It's seems like a small thing, but for a group of volunteers who give their time week after week, "thank you" says "I see you, I appreciate you, you have a place here." Take some time during the year to send a short handwritten note to each choir member, or surprise your choir members with a reception or a special recognition or a small keepsake at some point during the year (I love the idea of giving a custom-made ornament at Christmas!). Let your people know they are valued. Express your gratitude for the time and energy they invest in your choir or ensemble each week and the sacrifices they make to make that happen.
"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more,
do more and become more, you are a leader."
- John Quincy Adams (source)
Looking for more?
Join me inside Music Education and Leadership Skills for the Adult Choir Director, my newest online mini course for church musicians.
Packed with practical tools, resources, and strategies you can use right away in your ministry and teaching, we'll cover the basics of how adults learn, how to teach vocal technique and choral methods, develop sight-reading skills, choose music, and plan rehearsals.
What leadership approaches have you found to be most effective in a church music setting? Any not listed here?
How to Become a Better Leader: Qualities That Make Great Leaders (Kendra Cherry, Verywell Mind)
100 Best Quotes on Leadership (Kevin Kruse)
20 Leadership Quotes from the World's Most Influential Leaders