Unexpected Leadership

Unexpected Leadership

In my journey to becoming a professional musician, I never once thought about any aspects of leadership.   I didn’t read any books about leadership, or take any courses, nor had I any ambitions to “lead” anyone other than myself.  Since much of my motivation was based around worthiness and a need to prove myself, the end goal was often one of having arrived at a place of worth.  If I win this competition or this job I’ll live happily ever after, having proven my existence as worthwhile.  (see http://www.gbflutes.com/gb-blog/the-truth-about-why-i-became-a-musician for full details on that story).  

What I didn’t realize in those formative years, was that winning a job in an orchestra (especially a principal job) comes with a host of responsibilities that require good leadership skills.  Not only do I have to lead with my musicality, physicality and sometimes language to keep the flute section together and cohesive, I have to make intense choices about personnel that can often have a deep impact on peoples lives and livelihoods.  For example, it is my responsibility to decide who gets to play with the CPO when we need an “extra” flute player for a concert (which happens quite often).  It is certainly not something to be taken lightly, and with little to no experience in the area of leadership I experienced an incredibly steep learning curve when I started my job back in 2006.  Like – “fall off a cliff” kind of steep!

I have always been someone who strives to live with integrity and honesty.  That being said, I know that I haven’t always made the right decisions or taken the correct paths.  Fear of conflict, feeling insecure about my playing/level of experience, being too comfortable in the role of “victim”, and a need to have everyone like me were some of the character traits that pretty much made me a terrible leader in the early days.  I didn’t know what my rights were as the principal flute player, routinely let people walk all over me and ended up hurting a lot of folks in efforts to keep everyone happy.   The result was miscommunications, tensions, painful and difficult meetings and generally a group of pretty unhappy flute players.

Luckily, after hitting what was probably my rock bottom in self worth a few years into the job, I pursued professional help and began the long arduous journey towards a healthy sense of worth.  I still haven’t read any leadership books.. but I HAVE learned a ton about myself and what I have come to believe are the skills and traits needed for good leadership.  Here are some of the things I’ve learned and often consider when trying to make leadership type decisions:

  1. It is impossible to make everyone happy.   If you try to keep everyone happy, literally no one will end up being happy. 
  2. Good decisions can only be made through my intuition and with utmost integrity.  Fear or ego driven decisions are incredibly destructive and create a lot of pain and many headaches in the long term.  “Will this enhance the musical integrity of the flute section and orchestra as a whole?” is a question I often ask myself when weighing things out.
  3. If I have made a decision that I honestly believe was made with the highest level of integrity at the time, then I have to let go of any outcome that appears to be negative.  Sometimes the most painful lessons are the most important ones for all of us involved and are necessary for growth.  It never feels good to hurt someone, or to disappoint them, but as long as I haven’t made a decision from a place of malice or fear then I have to accept my choices will not always be universally popular or could cause someone difficulties.
  4. As one of the leaders of the flute community (not by choice mind you – just kind of goes with the job), I have come to believe that it is my job to lead by example so that the next generation of flutists can avoid some of the mistakes I/my generation have made.  Do I want my students to gossip, be competitive, be vindictive, judgemental, ego driven and mean –  or do I want an inclusive flute community that works together as much as possible with a goal of lifting people’s spirits with music?  I have found that students will learn more from how you behave then what you preach.
  5. Communication and honesty are key.  This is probably the most difficult lesson for me personally.   Honesty isn’t always the easiest thing to communicate – but in general I have come to realize that people would prefer to hear the truth, rather than be left guessing what you are thinking or feeling.
  6. Leadership is about taking advice as much as it is about giving it.  There has be a balance and openness to ideas if you want things to run smoothly.  I’ve never been the type to lead with an iron fist, but I have witnessed this approach and it is as equally destructive as being too passive.

Hopefully with another decade of experience I’ll figure out what this whole “leadership” role is about!  It still isn’t something that I enjoy about the job, but I take the responsibility seriously and will continue to do my best to learn how to improve that area of my life.   While it has been difficult, I’m deeply grateful for all the lessons I have learned through this process and strength and wisdom I have achieved through the trials and tribulations, mistakes and also triumphs of the last decade.   A sincere thank you to all involved!

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