Monday, April 27, 2009

The complex metrics of leadership

I've served in a leadership role in a lot of different situations, but most of them have been within the complex dynamics of creative collaborations. I've blogged before about the differing (and complementary) satisfactions that emerge from engaging in a diverse yet integrated set of collaborative situations: for me as a musician, having one gig where I'm the leader, another where I'm more-or-less music director, another that's a straightahead collaborative democracy--plus whatever peculiar one-off's that may come up on the horizon--allows me to play different roles.

And even more importantly, to keep those roles separate: when I'm in the sideman role, to accept and be comfortable with that, avoid trying to take over or shape the direction, because I know that there is another complementary situation in which I can call the shots. It's also incredibly valuable (I am discovering in my dotage), for someone who spends most of his professional time telling other, younger people what to do, to be put back in the situation of being a beginner, a subordinate, or a cog. Hubris is a ready trap for anybody who has a lot of training in one or another specialized skill, and it's doubly or triply tempting if you hold over someone the power of a grade or a degree.

But, you begin to get your shit together, and you get enough years in within the organization, and new possibilities arise. From my admired boss I am coming to learn more about the art of administration. As I say, I've understood people management for years, in the context of bands and classrooms, but it's an interesting challenge when you are leading the thinly-disguised middle-school recess that is a tenured faculty.

I have also come to understand that there are upper-administrative roles I could occupy constructively and others not. Currently, I work well as a sort of emissary from the Dark Side: the tenured Chair of Musicology who still looks like a tattooed ex-biker and -bouncer, but who can talk in a comparatively erudite and articulate fashion (albeit one sprinkled with four-letter words and their polysyllabic ilk, principle among them "motherfucker") to folks who may not be familiar with just how dark the Dark Side can get. It's charming and titillating but at the same time it's a challenge: I have to be reasonably honest to (and about) myself but I also have to try to reach out to people who are radically different than myself. These days, I spend a surprising amount of time talking/promoting to people with whom I share very little (politics, experience, leisure activities, choice of tipple, religious affiliation) except for the crucial point that they like music and I can talk about music.

No, I could never be the Director or Dean of a School of Music, at least not in this part of the country. Because in contrast to the pet-Bear persona I'm describing above, the Director/Dean has to feel enough like a banker that the blue-haired ladies feel the return on their investment (in infrastructure, in scholarship money, in buildings, or--most immediately AND rewardingly--in talented young people with good attitudes) is guaranteed. Somebody who looks and acts like a banker--cheery, optimistic, energetic, and never ever ever condescending or intimidating--feels like a safe investment. Some wild-eyed hippie--positive, energized, but also aggressive and demonstrably/visibly different from them--is never going to feel so safe.

That's why I'm better in a subordinate role, trotted out when the Boss needs to up the exoticism quotient.

I reckon I'm OK with that.

1 comment:

bobgoblin said...

No. The reason you CAN work in the "other" position is because you KNOW what the rest of us want. Plain and simple. Being two-faced is never easy, & that's not your way, but the simple fact that you KNOW when its time to ask forgiveness over asking permission is why you do what you do. I may be wrong, but, honestly, I don't think I am.