Safety In Numbers

As our last child is a senior in high school this year, we have seen many “lasts.” One was our last Christmas band concert. I must admit, I have, over the years, been an impatient and at times intolerant concert goer. This year was different. I not only really enjoyed the program, but I realized something I had failed to see all the years before.

As I’m sure is the practice at many schools, the Christmas concert includes all the bands from 5th grade through high school. The program starts with the youngest (and therefore the least advanced) students and ends with the full high school band. The 5th grade band plays simple and short arrangements. In fact, most of the instruments are playing the same notes, resulting in an uncomplicated sound. As the age and competence level rises, the arrangements become more complex. By the time we are listening to the high school band, we can hear many different harmonies being played by the same type of instrument, creating a full and rich sound.

As I listened to the bands, I was struck by two realizations that apply to all communities and have implications for us as leaders.

1.    A healthy community encourages and motivates its members to improve and develop. In the band, the younger and less practiced musicians are influenced and encouraged by the older and more accomplished ones. It is difficult to become what you haven’t seen. As the bands practice, interact, and eventually play together, new members of the community get a vision for what they can become if they are diligent in their practice. 

Being able to watch someone else do, with excellence, something you are just beginning to learn is a great advantage. When I was in high school and wanted to work on my car, I only had my prior experience and a poor excuse for a shop manual to help me. Today, you can find an online video showing you how to do almost anything. It makes a huge difference! Seeing something being done makes doing it much easier.

2.    A healthy community provides safety for new members as they become skilled themselves. Listening to the band, I had to really focus to hear singular players. The arrangements are, by design, written to blend the voices of individual instruments and their players into a beautiful whole. In fact, this is so much a reality that pieces often have solos to highlight the musicianship of an individual who would otherwise be an anonymous part of the group.

The worst part of beginning is being a beginner. No one enjoys being unskilled or inexperienced. This is exacerbated when our performance is visible (think customer facing). In the band, individual members are “covered” by the rest of the band and can participate without being singled out. This reduces anxiety and stress while providing the opportunity for growth and improvement from a position of relative safety.

A leader’s role is a little like that of the band director. We are leading the community to complete the tasks necessary to accomplish our goals, like the pieces of music in a concert. We must select appropriately complex (or simple) activities, matched to the expertise of our team. Sometimes we can let a more experienced team member take a “solo”, but most of the work gets accomplished by the team. The team can provide cover for new or inexperienced members while they develop their skills through practice and observation, but everyone must play their part.

A healthy community, led by healthy leaders, will challenge its members to grow and learn within the safety of the group, while it protects and supports those same members when they are on stage. Leadership is the gentle but firm conducting that encourages this ensemble of unique individuals to create something that will be appreciated by our audience. The leader that values, cares for, encourages, and protects their team members creates a culture that is both challenging and safe, and it is The Kimray Way.