The Show Must Go On! “Where My Backup Singers?”

“The show must go on!” may have never been better illustrated than by Patti LaBelle at the 1996 Christmas Tree Lighting in Washington, DC as seen in the video below.

Watch the video, then continue reading.

Throughout the song she brought attention to the problems by mentioning them, rolling her eyes and making faces, humming rather than signing, and complaining. But, … She. Kept. Going.

Question: Was it better for Ms. LaBelle to continue on even though she didn’t have her backup singers, didn’t know the song, and had the wrong cue cards? Or, should she have taken a moment to get organized?

A couple questions should guide us to an answer.

1. What did she intend to accomplish?
2. Did she, in fact, accomplish her goal by continuing on with the show?

Although I don’t know Ms. LaBelle’s goal for that performance, I can’t imagine that the product was anywhere near what she had hoped. Thus, it seams reasonable to conclude that she might have benefited by taking a moment to reorganize. Of course for public presenters – whether in song or spoken word – it is embarrassing to stop when things don’t go as planned. That’s understandable. But, could stopping for a moment to better organize be more embarrassing than the outcome of Ms. LaBelle’s performance? There is a reason it’s on YouTube.

Good Leaders Communicate

I am amazed at how often leaders fail to communicate with their constituents, whether those constituents be volunteers or employees or customers. This is particularly astounding because communication in today’s world is so easy. And good communication definitely distinguishes good leaders from poor leaders.

Here, I’m speaking of flow of information … keeping everybody on the same page. Depending on the type of information and the type of organization, a variety of options exist, including social media, e-mail, regular mail, and even the old fashioned telephone call.

I’m reminded of the story of the couple celebrating their golden anniversary. After the party, the wife confessed a disappointment to her husband: “You don’t tell me you love me anymore.” Without missing a beat, the husband replied very dryly, “At our wedding, I told you I love you. When things change, I’ll let you know.”

Some leaders mistakenly follow that husband’s model. But beware: The old adage, “No news is good news,” is not usually the case in today’s world. People – clients, employees, volunteers, team members, etc. – want to know what is going on. And when they find themselves “outside the loop,” damage occurs. Sometimes trust is broken. Sometimes feelings are hurt. Every time, confidence is eroded.

I once was asked by a non-profit organization to  teach a portion of a leadership training program that was scheduled to occur semi-annually, but not on specific (i.e., predetermined) dates. I taught the first time, received good reviews, and waited for the calendar to advance. Time passed, and when the second session of the year came around, I was not informed of the start date of the program nor of the date of my portion of the training. When I happened to hear about the training program being in-progress,  I wondered why I had not been informed of the program’s start date, nor the timing of my portion.

Since he had recruited me to teach in the program, I asked the senior leader of the organization if I was teaching in the current program offering. He said he would have to check with the person directly in charge of the program (i.e., the junior leader) to find out. When the senior leader got back with me, he said that certain changes to the curriculum had been made and the portion I had taught had been eliminated from the program.

I understand that curriculum can be reevaluated and edited from time to time, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the person teaching the deleted material did a bad job. Change doesn’t always mean criticism or failure. But lack of communication in such situations certainly communicates criticism. Worse, it breaks trust. What do you think it did to my trust and confidence in these particular leaders when they failed to communicate to me that I was no longer teaching and why my participation changed? What do you think this failure to communicate did to my motivation to volunteer (time, energy, recruiting, and finances) with this organization?

On the for profit side of the coin, have you ever seen a successful company like Apple roll out a new product without letting their potential buyers know about it. Can you imagine the next iPhone rolling out without a media blitz? Can you imagine the next iPhone rolling out without the chairman of the iPhone division knowing about it? “Not possible,” you say?

I’ve heard from employees of other companies whose bosses told customers about a new product that the department leader didn’t know anything about. In fact the department leader found out about the new product when customers began to inquire with him about the product. His answer to the customer, “I don’t know anything about that,” not only gave a bad impression to the potential customer, it humiliated the employee and eroded his trust and confidence in his leader(s). That’s. Not. Good.

Leaders, please do yourself a favor: Keep your people informed. Alternatively, pull the rug out from under yourself as a leader.




Good Leaders Celebrate

Leaders who are interested in building a T.E.A.M. spirit, a true “we’re all in this together” spirit, celebrate victories and milestones. And here, I don’t mean their own victories and milestones; I mean the victories and milestones of their team members.

I’ve seen too many situations in which only the leader’s accomplishments are acknowledged and celebrated. That’s a poisonous atmosphere in terms of creating T.E.A.M. Often he/she will offer the humble, “I’m surprised that people noticed,” or “How did you know it’s my birthday?” type of response over the cake and congratulatory cards. But, over time it becomes apparent that only his/her birthday is recognized and celebrated in the office. Only the boss’s life milestones (e.g., birth of child/grandchild, new certification, article published, graduation or marriage of child/grandchild, new house, etc.) are publicized from the main office.

Team builders realize that the executives aren’t the only ones that have work and life milestones or accomplishments. Good leaders acknowledge the victories that are related to the job. Great leaders – T.E.A.M. builders – celebrate the non-work related milestones of their team members.

In this regard, being a great leader requires at least two things:

First, the ability to look beyond oneself. Perhaps that seems self-evident. However, not all people in leadership earned the title LEADER by building a coalescent team. In other words, they haven’t attracted people who happily follow. They are leaders by contract: “I’m the boss and you will follow my lead.” This is a toxic environment. Great leaders, look beyond themselves, see the team as larger than themselves, and recognize the members of the team.

Second, a great leader knows his/her charges well enough to know when they have life events, and acknowledge and celebrate those events. A card, a personal email, a company e-blast are easy, inexpensive ways a leader can celebrate with his/her team members. For larger milestones, a cake or small gathering of co-workers is appropriate.

I already hear the objections:

“Our company is too big. I can’t know all that kind of stuff about all the people who work here!” Okay, start by celebrating the victories of those directly under your charge, and expect them to do the same … until every last person on the flow chart is included and recognized. Make this part of the company or ministry or club DNA.

“I don’t have budget or time for this kind of stuff.” How much money or time does it take to send an email or dial an office extension and say, “Happy Birthday!”? A word of warning is particularly relevant here: Don’t simply go through the motions by doing something impersonal. You know, the faux-personal note. People know, or will soon know when the note isn’t genuine. Auto-pilot is a mistake.

I’ve seen instances where the leader had a stack of computer generated post cards and simply scribbled his/her name below a message of “encouragement” (probably prepared by someone else). The first time the person received that type of note, he/she was encouraged. The second time, thoughts of “wait a minute, this looks automated” started to creep in. The third time, the person was convinced the cards were robot-generated and all the previous good will was lost. After that, the cards went directly from the mailbox to the recycle bin.

I want to encourage leaders – in any context – to begin celebrating their team members’ accomplishments and milestones and see how much morale and T.E.A.M. spirit and unity improve. This will result in increased productivity.

Leadership and Competency

Good leaders enhance T.E.A.M. spirit by surrounding themselves with competent people. This is not to say that every member of the team is a “number one draft pick.” Rather, it is to say that leaders recruit people who have skills and a proven track record.

Competent people are encouraged and energized in the presence of other competent people. And this energy is transferred into the work environment and typically enhances output. An additional bonus is that competent people are more easily encouraged to volunteer for or hire into an organization that emphasizes competence and excellence. Notice that this principle is true for both non-profit and for-profit situations.

People who are competent in their field lose confidence in a leader, and thus the team spirit diminishes when incompetent people are regularly hired or recruited. And this is  particularly true when incompetent people are brought in (or promoted) as a favor to friends or cronies. In other words, nepotism will destroy team morale.

A clarifying word is in order here. I am not suggesting that no one should be given a chance to learn, therefore, beginners need not apply! However, the chance to learn starts not at the top, or even mid-level. It starts at the bottom, and for reasons of prospect not favoritism. As the prospect increases in knowledge, skill, and expertise, he/she should rise in responsibility and seniority.

When beginners are brought in this way and work their way up, veterans respect them and the leadership. This results in increased T.E.A.M. spirit.

Good Leaders Build a Team Spirit

Good leaders enhance team trust by doing things that create a confident and positive team spirit. Many good leaders remind themselves of the importance of team by following the acronym T.E.A.M. Together, everybody accomplishes more. This is true in the business world, the sporting world, and even the church world.

Good leaders recognize that a positive team spirit and confidence in leadership among the troops is even more important when the organization is going through a difficult stretch. For example, when a product isn’t selling as well as predicted or a team is regularly in the basement of their division or membership is declining.

Although many people think winning automatically fixes internal problems, good leaders also recognize that being on the top does not necessarily translate into team harmony. Ask yourself why employees choose to leave the company with the hottest product or why players choose to leave a championship team or why there is high staff turnover at some churches that are experiencing unprecedented growth. In all of these apparently winning situations, people are leaving. Why? Good leaders not only recognize the value of T.E.A.M. when end results aren’t at the desired level, they also recognize that a winning team that is divided will begin to crumble. Again this is true in the corporate world, the sporting world, and even the church world.

Leaders enhance their leadership skills and leadership influence by recognizing the value of T.E.A.M. The next several leadership posts will point out ways that good leaders build T.E.A.M. spirit.



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