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Music Director as Transformational Leader

Being or becoming a church musician requires a different identity and a different skill set from that of a musician doing church music. There really is a tremendous difference! The church musician, the conductor of the choir, and the music leader for worship must be focused on and dedicated to leading people in a strong spiritual journey through liturgy and worship participation. It is a unique and very special duty and delight! The conductor is, in fact, a spiritual leader, a transformational leader empowered by God.

Examine the word transform. It does not mean merely change, or we would use that word. Transform implies an expanded vision; it is much more transcendent than simple change. It suggests a deeper, more fundamental alteration of our very form (trans – form). The continuing process of transformation begins with the moment of inspiration and continues in us through times of action, rest, and reflection. The conductor is in a unique position to change lives positively for the faith journey. The music director is a fine-tuned instrument for God's use.

Building a Musical Ensemble as Transformation
Conductors understand transformation experientially. The very nature of the work is that of transformation.

Singers show up for rehearsal. They come to sing, and each has a different perspective and possibly a different level of talent. The skilled choral conductor listens, instructs, motivates, encourages, and affirms the changes that are necessary to mold this unrelated group of singers into a unified sound. The product is called an ensemble. We strive for that unity as an ensemble each time we rehearse or perform.

The magic of transformation is absolutely necessary in the world of music. Transformation happens not by chance, but by intention — not only on the part of the leader, but on the part of the participants as well. The results are cumulative. Once the sense of ensemble is achieved and experienced, it can be believed.

So why are we not committed to building that sense of ensemble in all that we undertake? Maybe it's an education issue for those we lead. Maybe it's a lack of understanding that this is a concept that is transferable from musical groups to other groups.

Why is that concept so foreign to all of us? And why does the concept seem unattainable? We can believe in the universal power of transformation. Are we willing to try? Are we willing to teach?

Becoming a Transformational Leader
To transform means to change. How do you, as a leader, inspire, enable, and empower others to bring change into an organization? You do so by encouraging, sharing, coaching, trusting, modeling, valuing, and reinforcing change. Being a transformational leader is similar in many ways to being a charismatic leader. The major difference is that your focus as a transformational leader is on working through people and not through your own power.

The transformational leader produces results through people. The ideal model for this is the choral ensemble. The chorus is inspired and enabled by the enthusiasm and charisma of the director/leader. There is a shared vision because they are working from the same piece of music as interpreted by the conductor. They are empowered to produce to the best of their ability by the positive direction of their leader. There is constant nurture and encouragement, both verbally (in rehearsal) and visually (in performance.) The role of the leader is to model as well as to inspire and encourage. Let's look at these items separately.

Working Through People
As a transformational leader, you influence people's lives as you guide them toward a strong vision. Maintaining an unswerving commitment to the vision and encouraging others are key drivers for success. Music directors, especially, recognize that they are in the business of transforming people and their productivity. The other transformation that takes place is also key: transforming congregational members' lives through their participation in programs and events.

Working through people is the foundation of transformational leadership. Respecting each individual is essential. Building a strong vision and continually selling that vision to participants is one of your key roles as a transformational leader. The charisma and enthusiasm that you show will inspire those who follow. And the followers need encouragement when the days are dark and the going gets tough.

As leader, you can raise the level of emotional energy in the group by your own enthusiasm and support. Those who will follow need a strong vision, strong encouragement, and strong affirmations along the way. If there are little signs of success along the way, then the belief systems of those who follow will be strengthened.

Getting people to agree to move toward a vision takes strong leadership skills, good communication skills, enthusiasm, charisma, and — most of all — trust. If people know they can trust you, then they will follow a path that is not yet clear to them. They will follow, trusting that the path is clear to you. As leader, you must model the way you want your followers to act. A group will learn quickly whether or not a leader is sincere. Your actions must be the same as your spoken beliefs.

Working through others depends on their empowerment. It also depends on clear vision and clear directions along the way. Let go of things that others could do. You may need to help people develop their skills in order to take on certain tasks. Your role then is to encourage, nurture, coach, and let go. Let people put their personal stamp on the work. Use their ideas as they apply to the vision. Do not discount people's contributions, even if their ideas are not exactly what you would have done. They will do it differently. Get over it. Delegate and transform. As people develop ownership in a project, they will develop their own momentum.

Be sure to reinforce good work and acknowledge results. Celebrate people's contributions. If they do not have all the information, knowledge, or skills to pull off the objective, give them some of yours. Contribute to their success in any way that you can. It's not about your achievement; it's about their journey toward transformation. Your achievement is wrapped up with their success.

Transformation is not an event; it is a process. You are not a dictator. You are an enabler, a coach, and a transformational leader. Those who have experienced transformation will have an impact on the world in which we live, work, and worship.

Disciplinary Skills
Your strength as leader sets the speed of the team. Model the type of behavior that you want. Give your best, and expect their best. Know what you want, and know how to handle the situation when things don't go as planned.

There are times to reign in your staff, the volunteers you've recruited, and yourself. Remember how it feels when people speak harshly to you; so when reigning people in, don't be harsh.

Remember always that the transformational leader works through people. You work through people by enabling, coaching, and encouraging; not by forcing or with raw power.

Transform yourself
Continually sharpen your skills for proficiency, and continually focus your devotional life so that you are a transformational leader who is transforming followers spiritually. The end result should always be spiritual renewal, spiritual transformation, and people who are spiritually equipped for Christian service.

Getting too focused on programs, goals, and strategies will keep you away from the main focus on the spiritual journey. Keep your focus on God's work — through your work. God transforms people through the talents given to you.

Set and keep a daily routine for personal devotion. Read constantly. Listen to God's messages in the readings, through others, and in prayer and meditation. God leads; we follow. We lead; and others follow. Don't let that chain be broken. It is through God's power that we succeed. Read and remember Scripture that relates to following God and that relates to God's equipping people for ministry.

Building Leaders
Get to know all the people in the group over which you have leadership responsibility. Know their skills and desires. Know who can do what task and who will likely want to do what task. As the leader, you must model the traits you want to see in volunteers and staff. A good leader must also know what to ask from people and where to assign them. Do not expect a duck to act like an eagle. All of the positive modeling in the world will not change that kind of reality.

Leadership is about relationships and personal fulfillment. If people feel affirmed and valued, then they will be more willing to do more for you.

Build leaders by matching tasks with people's skills and desires, by giving clear directions, by giving all the needed support, and finally, by following up with support and affirmation for a job well done.

Surround Yourself with Successful People
If you want to improve your skills and efficiency, then associate with people you admire or from whom you can learn. If you have trouble with efficiency — if you think that you waste time, then do not associate with others who have not learned to use their time efficiently. If someone is constantly trying to catch up or is complaining about not having enough time to get things done, then he or she is not the person who can help you with time management skills. After all, every day has the same number of hours for each of us. We must figure out for ourselves how to use that time. Associate with people who have balanced schedules and are busy, but who know how to organize their time and their tasks so that life is not constantly out of control. You will grow as you learn from the actions of others you admire.


Hugh Ballou is an independent consultant, facilitator, coach and motivational speaker. He has served as a Director of Worship Ministries in churches with up to 12,000 in membership for 40 years. His book Moving Spirits, Building Lives: Church Musician as Transformational Leader can be found at Cokesbury bookstores and Cokesbury online. His next work will be a workbook for leading groups in transformational growth as they are equipped for ministry.

Copyright © 2005 Hugh Ballou. Used with permission.

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