I always liked musicals, because I thought it was pretty cool that characters could express themselves by just striking up the band and singing, right in the middle of a conversation.
My big moment on stage back then came when I was cast as “Jigger Craigin” in a production of Carousel. Yep, that’s a 21 year-old me in the picture, trying to act mean (the character was a bad guy) and holding a cigarette for probably the only time in my life.
I got that golden opportunity to suddenly break into song, and I relished it, belting out songs about whaling (!) and about how virtuous men are big problems for women (remember, I was a bad guy).
It was a blast, and I found that I was quite comfortable being in front of a crowd and performing. This would come in handy for me as I advanced in my career to the point I am today, frequently in front of large groups of teammates trying to put into words the company vision.
One thing that stuck with me was the uptick in positive energy that always occurred when someone broke into an “up” song – it was like a joy injection. Think of the great movie musicals you’ve seen – like “Singin’ in the Rain“, “Grease“, or more recently, “Moulin Rouge” (try watching the “Elephant Love Medley” in that movie and keep from smiling).
Which led me to this thought – why not use this technique in a leadership position?
OK, I don’t travel around with an orchestra (or a karaoke machine), so it’s a bit impractical to pull off a big production number to exhort a group to give better customer service (although the mental picture of that is intriguing…….).
However, since I can carry a bit of a tune, I’m not afraid to throw in a few bars of something just to jazz up an occasion (those of you at SOBCon07 could relate to that!). It’s one of those offbeat twists that can really create a hook to go with the message, to make it more memorable and ultimately more actionable.
My latest example was just the other day – I was noodling about how I was going to “work in” the concept of “gratitude” as part of a project Ellen Weber was working on, and the musical idea popped into my head.
At the end of one of our weekly management group conference calls, where I usually have the floor for a few minutes to summarize our key goals for the week, I mentioned that I was really grateful to the team for meeting a key goal of ours at the end of June, and then suddenly queued up Barry Manilow’s “Looks Like We Made It” and sang the first verse and chorus (with some of the words appropriately changed to fit the occasion).
I don’t think too many of these folks expected me to thank them in quite this way. I got the energy jolt from the teammates in the room with me, and a lot of smiles too. Did it work on the other end of the phone line? I got a few messages afterwards that it did, from people who expressed an appreciation that we could actually work hard and have fun too.
Am I really recommending singing as a way to better leadership? Not the singing itself perhaps, but I would say that the ability to “mix it up” and create these kind of memorable “hooks” to inspire, surprise, and show gratitude go a very, very long way towards establishing the kind of productive work environment that will produce better than good, if not great, results.
So, perhaps you should take “Leadership: The Musical” out on the road and into the boardrooms with you. One more piece of advice – make sure the song is in your key. 🙂