Over the years as a high school administrator, I had the privilege of participating in several pit orchestras for high school musicals and was able to the play one of the woodwind scores for numerous Broadway shows (Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, Annie, The King and I, Hello Dolly, and You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown). I loved these musicals – they were challenging musically, but the energy of the show made the music come alive with meaning and purpose. Having spent many hours in practice and performances, the music began to bounce around in my mind, and I found myself whistling and humming the music throughout the day. The more I have reflected on those good days in the orchestra pit playing music with my colleagues, the more I have appreciated the contagious nature of the Broadway tunes. This leads me to my next metaphor of leadership as I compare the role of the leader to the role of the Overture in the show. Let me share with you four key similarities – Bb, C, Dm, and G just to keep the metaphor going..
Bb, the Overture is the first piece of music that the audience hears. One conductor that I worked with, encouraged us to warm up and be ready for the first downbeat, but he requested that we not play of the music of the show in our warm-ups. We could play scales or pop tunes or Christian tunes, but nothing from the performance. Why? Because he wanted to audience to be introduced to the music of the show through the Overture itself. The Overture has a little taste of all the melodies in the show. It was a grand introduction of what was to follow. In some ways the Overture is the musical face of the story to come. And so, the leader is the face of the organization. The leader must know every aspect of the company and be able to sing a little bit about all the programs, products and services of the institution.
C, because the Overture is a medley of songs, the style of music changes several times in quick succession and the dynamics move from a soft, sweet love song to the allegro of a chase scene or a march of victory and then quickly to a quiet lullaby. So an effective leader must change tempos and dynamics often during the day. From encourager to listener; from a personal conversation to a group report, from decision maker to a confrontational phone call, from a tender moment of appreciation to the complaints of the disgruntled. The leader not only know every tune, but he/she knows when to change his pace, and his place, and his face.
Dm, the composer/arranger of the Overture casts the melody line from instrument to instrument as the different songs are highlighted. The brass may start the Overture with an attention-getting flair, then the strings or even a violin solo may take over with a sweet song of love, flowed by the woodwinds dancing with a humorous melody of mischief. As each instrument adds its voice and takes the lead, there is a capturing of the entire show in the first 10 minutes of the performance. The effective leader realizes that leadership is not all about the leader. Each member of the team (as the orchestral instruments) must play his/her part for the organization to be successful and grow. The actual role of leader can change from team member to team member depending on the situation. Leader”ship” is a dynamic interactive process of creating, communicating and transforming vision into reality. One leader cannot accomplish that process alone, but with a band of instrumental people, the organization can embrace the entire show. He wise leader allows and encourages every team member to take the lead as his/her strength is needed. The organizational melody should move from member to member as the entire mission is accomplished.
G, the Overture is filled with transitions. Some of the transitions are smooth and stay in the same key, others are abrupt, changing keys, tempo, and time signatures (from 3/4 to 6/8 to 4/4). Before the audience gets too comfortable listening to one tune, the Overture switches gears and introduces another melody. Variety is at the core of the Overture. Effective leaders are aware that transitions can (and will) come at a moment’s notice. There are times when the leader transitions from one responsibility to another without losing a beat as the day just flows between one setting to another. But the unexpected never gives much notice and the leader is often required to quickly change perspectives and step into a different rhythm of decision making. The day, the week, the life of a leader is filled with transitions. The key for the leader (and the orchestra) is to embrace the transitions and make incredible music in the midst of the changes.
The next time you listen to a Broadway show’s Overture… wait, you never have listened to an overture? you don’t like Broadway musicals?….give it a try; “Annie” is a good one to enjoy. So, anyway, the next time you listen to a Broadway show’s Overture, notice the transitions, the instrumentation, and the amazing way that all the tunes are woven together to give the audience an exciting picture of what awaits.