Take a moment to think about the choir directors you’ve had during your lifetime. What was your first choir director like? If you sang in a choir during high school, what was that director like? Think about the directors you’ve had as an adult, whether in a university, church, or community setting. What were those directors like?
Each one had a different style, right? A different approach to leading, conducting, organizing, and communicating with the choir. What makes one director a stronger leader than another? Which communication style is most effective?
Before we answer those questions, grab a piece of paper and a pencil so you can reflect on your own choir-directing experience as we go.
Ready to get started? Let’s begin by discussing leadership style.
Determining Your Leadership Style
How do you interact with others? David Jensen described two types of people: open and reserved.
According to his article on behavioral style, "Open people . . . are willing to reach out and touch. They will use a lot of eye contact and expression to communicate. To them, there is nothing more important than establishing good interpersonal relationships.” (source)
If you’re an open leader, people may describe you as easy to work with, agreeable, friendly, and caring.
By way of contrast, Jenson goes on to say that reserved people will "hold back on disclosing anything that might give clues to their inner nature . . . . [They] are most comfortable when keeping a certain distance in their interpersonal relationships.” (source)
If you’re a reserved leader, people may describe you as thoughtful, intentional, dedicated, and doing high-quality work.
Where do you fall on the spectrum? Write down your answer.
Determining Your Communication Style
How would you describe your communication style? Here are four interesting ways to look at communication styles as suggested by ‘Straight Talk’:
Director: You are goal- and action-oriented, a risk-taker, driven, and focused on the work at hand. You tend to communicate in a clear, quick, direct manner.
Expresser: You are creative, an expressive story-teller, dynamic, and enthusiastic about your work. You tend to communicate by explaining and describing things in detail.
Thinker: You are detail-oriented, a problem-solver, intentional, and thorough in your work. You tend to communicate by asking questions, then giving very specific feedback.
Harmonizer: You are quiet and thoughtful, a conflict-avoider, and care deeply about the people you work with. You tend to communicate only when needed, in a soft, gentle manner.
Which one resonates with you? If you can identify with elements of more than one type, make a note of this.
What Type of Choir Director Are You?
Determining your leadership and communication styles are important steps to figuring out what type of choir director you are and identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a leader.
To help illustrate this, I put together four character profiles representing different leadership and communication styles. Can you relate to any of these?
You are well-trained and well-versed in music history, theory, literature, and expression. Creating beautiful music is your top priority. You tend to feel things deeply and may get offended when others don’t seem to care as much as you do about the art form, but people respect you and your opinions.
Leadership style: Reserved
Communication style: Thinker
Strengths: You are committed to excellence, hard-working, and dedicated.
Weaknesses: You may be perceived as closed off and not relatable.
You are driven and structured. Your attention to detail means nothing slips through the cracks; you plan ahead and are always prepared. Your rehearsals are highly organized, planned to the minute. You have systems and strategies for teaching new anthems, reviewing parts, and developing vocal technique. Some may resist this amount of structure, but you get results.
Leadership style: Reserved
Communication style: Director
Strengths: You are driven and provide structure for learning and achieving goals.
Weaknesses: You may be perceived as inflexible, strict, or high-strung.
You want choir to be a fun and enjoyable experience for all. You want to win the affection of your choir members, so you try not to ask too much of them in rehearsal. Some may consider this a laissez-faire (“let them do” in French) approach, but you want people to be relaxed and comfortable and see you as an equal.
Leadership style: Open
Communication style: Expresser
Strengths: You create a relaxed environment, friendly and are easy to be around.
Weaknesses: You may be perceived as lax, lacking initiative, or not committed to your work.
You enjoy working collaboratively with your choir. You seek their input, listen carefully, and value their opinions and ideas. You work together to form a plan or develop a working strategy to address something you’re learning together. You see yourself as a learner as much as a teacher sometimes.
Leadership style: Open
Communication style: Harmonizer
Strengths: You are committed to your work, you empower others, and create a thoughtful learning environment.
Weaknesses: You may be perceived as less knowledgeable or lacking the ability to take charge.
Remember, these are just illustrations—there are many other types not listed here (for the sake of brevity!).
The purpose of this illustration is to help you think about your leadership and communication style and develop the flexibility you need to lead and serve your choir well. Take note of the strengths and weaknesses under each profile: how does this inform the work you do?
Learning How Others Communicate
As important as it is to determine your communication style, it’s also important to learn how others communicate and receive information. This is especially true in group settings, as you’ll likely have multiple communication style preferences within your choir. How do you communicate effectively in a way that reaches everyone?
Experts say the secret to being a great leader is having the flexibility and awareness to adapt and change your approach, based on what the situation requires. According to an article by Carnicer, Garridom, and Requena, published in the International Journal of Music and Performing Arts (June 2015, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 84-88), "Good leaders are able to adopt and combine different styles of leadership to improve the welfare and efficacy of the group they lead” (source). The key is learning to recognize what your choir needs when and adapting in the moment.
Keep in mind that you may have a mix of Directors, Expressers, Thinkers, and Harmonizers in your choir, so it’s important to learn about those communication styles and recognize what others need from you as a leader and director. Mix and match your approach from time to time to make sure you’re reaching everyone in your group and not just the people who share your preferred communication style.
I’d love to hear: What leadership approach or communication strategy has helped you become a more effective leader?
A version of this article originally appeared on the OUP blog, and is re-published here with permission.