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Leadership Lessons from Choral Singing

A recent fascinating article was published recently called, “What choral singing can teach us about leadership.” The article described a recent unusual leadership workshop led by Harry Davis, who is a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

“Instead of a lecture or small-group exercises, management professor Harry Davis got everyone on their feet and formed a choir.”

Wow. Not your typical business school class. Even though we're based in Oakland, CA a couple of thousand miles away from Chicago, this definitely caught our interest.

Davis had previously sung as a student of the Dartmouth Glee Club, so he clearly had the perspective and experience of someone who personally enjoyed singing in a high-quality chorus. In the desire to try something innovative as well as to expose the workshop participants (few of whom were singers) to new experiences, Davis was drawing upon the potential lessons that could be drawn from the performing arts:

“As we look at the performing arts, there’s an enormous amount of value that can be taken in terms of experimentation and being open to other worlds that may contain useful raw material that could apply to our own world…. For better or worse, the world has become more specialized,” reflects Davis. “We need specialization, but we need breadth as well.”

Choirs and choruses provided many potential lessons for leaders: e.g., Vulnerability, trust, teamwork, failure, and, perhaps most importantly, the need to listen to each other.

“We teach music to be better people and how to listen to each other,” explains Mollie Stone, a choirmaster and lecturer at the University of Chicago’s music department, who helped Davis develop the workshop.

The fundamental goal and artistic beauty of a choir is that it is not a solo voice or even a collection of voices. Rather, through difficult to achieve intonation, harmony, tone, color, and blend (among many musical challenges), a good chorus is more than the sum of its individual singers. This is true for both experienced, trained, auditioned, professional choirs of the highest caliber as well as for non-auditioned, community, amateur choruses of all sorts.

Here is a YouTube trailer regarding this very interesting intersection between singing in a choir and leadership.

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