Singing Together– another metaphor

November 4th, 2013

Last night I had the joy of seeing with a friend a performance of EDITH with Jil Aigrot: 50th Anniversary of Piaf’s Death. It was at Lisner Auditorium. Ms. Aigrot’s vocal ability and warm, round, clear tones are a wonderful tribute to the great songstress, Edith Piaf. I was transported, despite my poor command of French. She did something that completely captured the audience. After singing the well-known La Vie En Rose from the stage, she came into the audience, walking up and down aisles and singing it in English. She then got the whole audience singing, asking us to sing whether we knew the words or not, so there were many “ah-ahs” and “la-las”. She joined only occasionally with a phrase, emphasizing a transition or subtly keeping us in tune, while she continued walking the aisles.

We sounded remarkably good. And, I dare say, we all loved it. We became part of the music, part of creating this beauty.

I am going to skip the very tempting discussion of the universality of music and go to the human desire to be part of things, part of creating, part of beauty (however the individual defines beauty). I ask leaders (leaders of all sorts) how are you enrolling people in creating that new campaign, that product, that service that moves toward your vision? Ms. Aigrot’s activity highlights some things for me:

1- Walk around. I believe it was in the 90’s there was a popular idea called Management by Walking Around. It is important to connect with people and to see them in some way in order to connect. I have coached managers who have such intense schedules of meetings and production that they struggle to find time to just walk around and talk to people. Those who manage people in distant locations have an even greater challenge, and their situation is increasingly common.

2- Explicitly invite people in. Of course we would not have begun singing without the invitation, even urging, but in organizations many leaders feel that it should be understood that people should come forward with ideas. There is conditioning in some organizations that is as strong as audience conditioning.

3- Make it safe. Ms. Aigrot said “even if you don’t know the words”. Coming forward can feel risky. A new idea enacted is a risk. We need to expect some failure and even celebrate it because that means we are trying new things. A timid idea is seldom a great idea. A bold idea where it is allowed will invite support and fine tuning from others so it can become great.

4- Don’t walk away. Be sure that people who have been freed to create something on their own, know that you are there for support and feedback as appropriate. You can be available to sing that transition with them.

People generally want to be part of the process. When they are invited to participate in visualizing, creating, and fine-tuning the mechanisms for change, they will all be singing from the same sheet of music. And mostly on-key.

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