Leading by example with a servant mindset can have a profound impact. As a leader, working in the trenches with staff is far from glamorous but makes ambitious goals possible. This is the story of when I helped Steven Curtis Chapman pull off a spectacular performance at The Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
I was a behind the scenes guest for Steven Curtis Chapman’s performance at The Kennedy Center. The live performance included a 250 member choir and full orchestra. After the dress rehearsal, the choir returned to the hotel to get refreshed and changed for the main event. However, right before the choir was to board the buses to the Kennedy Center for the performance, the skies opened in a complete down pour. It rained so hard the street was flooded with 6 inches of water. The buses were 15 yards from the covered exit of the hotel and the choir would have gotten drenched trying to load the buses. The director looked out in complete disbelief and began asking for suggestions on what to do. I then suggested I could speak to the concierge to see if they had some umbrellas and she agreed.
Water Filling Streets
When I returned, I rounded up a few other guys including one off the streets and suggested we could walk each choir member one by one to the buses using the large umbrellas I obtained. Everyone agreed to the plan, the choir was lined up and we began to execute. Within 7 trips back and forth, I was completely drenched. After ~280 people were boarded in about 25 minutes, even my underwear was soaked (that’s 70 people per person carrying an umbrella as there were only 4 of us). As planned, the choir and other performers were all dry and the mission was successfully accomplished. Then reality set in. I was all wet and had no change of clothes. Hence during the performance and after concert boat cruise, I literally shivered in the air conditioning trying to regain my warmth. The heated seats of my Buick were never enjoyed more than that ride home in the wee hours of the morning.
Me Escorting a Choir Member to Bus
Why Its Important
When refining steel through pryometallury, it is heated and slag or impurities flows to the top and are removed. Often in leadership, less glamorous yet critical tasks flow to the top for resolution. In order to put out these fires, a leader needs to be ready to role up their sleeves and work as anyone else at an accelerated pace. Other times, a leader may need to help a team that is behind and take on a task that is mundane yet needed. This not only helps the team succeed but sets a great example. Its shows we are all in this together and each team members’ contributions are valuable.
Giving a spectacular performance at the Kennedy Center in front of a sold out crowd takes great leadership. Unfortunately, leadership is not always standing on the peak of a mountain. It took years (sometimes decades) of grueling practice and performances to see this to fruition. There were also many leaders behind the scenes that paid attention to the details and rolled up their sleeves to make this a huge success.
Actions You Can Take To Lead When It’s Not All Glitz and Glamor
- Have a mind set that values the contributions of others. As a leader, its easy to think jobs are below us. This sends a clear message that I am better than you and my work is more important which could not be further from the truth. In order for a project to be highly successful, important contributions and attention to detail are needed from all team members. If this degrades, projects begin to have major issues and possibly fail. Leaders set the tone with their actions.
- Be aware of changing conditions around you and prepared to lead even when its not glamorous. Getting soaked holding an umbrella in the rain and later shivering in air conditioning is far from people’s view of leadership. However, an ability to think quickly, devise a plan and take action is exactly what leaders do on a regular basis. Soon I was a celebrity among the choir and the gratitude came pouring in.
- Show your support for your team by working side by side in challenging times. We live in a dynamic world. A single part out of stock on a vehicle assembly line can shut it down until it’s obtained in adequate supply. In this case, a leader could scream about all the circumstances that caused this, storm out of the room abandoning the team and only cause further distress. Alternatively, the leader could win loyalty by helping the team in the mundane task of resolving the continuity of supply issue. The team knows they screwed up and there will be time after the crisis is over to put better controls in place to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
- Set a great example by being productive and efficient even in the mundane. When lending a helping hand to staff, I often found tolerated inefficiencies costing precious time and resources that could be changed with small investments. This mindset is fostered by managers who constantly say no without understanding the consequences of their hasty decisions around budget. Instead, be open to employee ideas and use your expertise to look for areas to make the process more efficient and productive. This is an excellent mentoring opportunity.
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