By Janette Fishell, D.Mus
Professor of Music Chair, Organ Department Jacobs School of Music Indiana University, Bloomington

Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow.

Chinese Proverb

The subject of leadership has always fascinated me.  Like most of us, I have been part of organizations that benefited from the best, and suffered from the worst, examples of leadership.  Consciously, and unconsciously, each of these situations has shaped my personal “brand” of leadership, and I, in turn, am very aware of how I model that leadership in my life and work– to my colleagues, the public, and most importantly, my students.

When Gail asked me to contribute an article to Musforum I was in the midst of teaching the class “The Philosophy and Practice of Sacred Music,” a two semester graduate course that deals with a myriad of issues related to the vocation of sacred music, including principles of leadership.  As part of that discussion, Gwyn Richards, Dean of the Jacobs School of Music and one of the most gifted and creative administrators I’ve had the honor to know and work with, addressed my class.  The following thoughts about leadership, organized into ten sections, represent an amalgam of Dean Richards’s thoughts and my further reflections.  I offer them to my sister Musforum readers as food for thought.

I. Leadership comes from influence, not position.

  • Success is a rising tide that lifts all associated with an institution.  It is bigger than one person, just as a tide is capable of lifting not just one person but an entire ship.
  • Developing relationships is essential to leadership; a title or position can be isolating and does not, on its own, confer power and influence.  Gaining the trust of others by demonstrating ethical behavior, wisdom, and genuine concern for people and the institution is the healthy way to gain influence.

II.   Know yourself and be your BEST version of YOU.

  • The best leaders know who they are.  Be your most authentic YOU.
  • Not every great leader is extrovert but every great leader is an effective communicator.
  • Your sense of identify affects your sphere of influence.
  • What are the values you hold?  Being ethical and honest?  Then speak the TRUTH –always, even when it may be difficult.  Honest leaders are trusted; flatterers are not.
  • You must say the same thing about a topic to everyone, no matter how difficult that may be.
  • You must develop the art of discernment, being able to tell the good from the bad.  Be bold and wise enough to make quality judgments.
  • A good leader’s heart must be in the right place.
  • Dealing with jealousy: know when it is not yet “your time.”  Avoid jealousy by thinking “up a level.”  When a church across town gets a wonderful new organ and you are still suffering with a tired old electronic say, “Isn’t it wonderful that the community will experience this new instrument!”  Be happy someone is being successful rather than envy them that success.  Your time just has not come yet.  Trust that it will if you are on the right path.

III   What do you WANT to do?

  • Do you enjoy what you are doing?  If not you probably won’t be very good at it for long.
  • Are you curious?
  • Where is your passion?
  • What inspires you?
  • Do you have courage?
  • Are you ambitious?
  • Do you always ask, “What’s next?”
  • Are you Current?  Creative?  Engaged?  These lead to innovation and good leaders are required to be innovative.

IV.  Be open to new expressions and disciplines.

  • Great leaders have a rear view mirror, peripheral vision, eyes on the road and horizon.   Consider all solutions to problems and all new paths of expression before dismissing them out of hand.

V. Don’t base your leadership on a snapshot.

  • “The difference between an amateur and a master is a body of work.”   Know the longer narrative in your work, the life of the institution and the work of your colleagues.

VI.   Where do you take a risk?

  • Good leaders must make calculated risks that don’t put the institution in jeopardy.

VII. See the world as a work in progress.

  • A leader never sees a world that cannot be changed.  Examples from our time:  Baby Boomers have lived in a time of prosperity and relative peace.  They retire younger and have longer lives than generations previous – what is next for them?  Many seek a creative life as a way to reach personal fulfillment, either after their professional life ends or in tandem with it.  “Millennials” (Generation Z) are experiential rather than materialistic.  They would rather “do” than “have.”  How can we as musicians meet the desires and needs of these two generations – the grandparents, and parents of the current generation – each of whom seek something deeper and more meaningful than the acquisition of material objects?
  • “Where your passion and the world’s need intersect, there is your vocation.”

VIII.   You almost never get it right the first time.

  • Ideas morph – they usually begin very small and grow into something much larger. The more an idea is shared with good people the more it morphs into something stronger.

IX.   How to get there.

  • Set standards that scare you.  Growth doesn’t happen in your comfort zone.
  • Look at decisions from the vantage point of 25 years in the future.  Take the long view.
  • Commit to completion.

X. It’s about Relationships.

  • ‘What kind of environment or culture do you create? Do you keep people? Can you collaborate?  The bigger your vision and mission are the more collaboration you need.
  • Consider the power of collaborating with your competitors.
  • Ask really good questions.  The best ones are open ended such as, ”How are things?”   Ask follow-up questions – this shows you are actively listening.
  • When people make bad decisions they stopped asking questions too soon.
  • Networking is best done when you DON’T need something.  Create relationships in the good times so the network is there to support you in the difficult times.

Short Bio:

Janette Fishell is Professor of Organ and Chair of the Organ Department at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University, and Organist/Choirmaster at The Episcopal Church of All Saints, Indianapolis.  A graduate of Indiana University and Northwestern University, she is active as a recitalist and teacher throughout the US and abroad. Named “Young Organist of the Year” by Keyboard Arts while an IU undergraduate, she also holds the 2012 Oswald Ragatz Distinguished Organist Alumni Award, presented by her IU alumni peers, and the 2014 Paul Creston Award, presented at St. Malachy’s (“The Actor’s Chapel”), New York City, an honor presented annually to “a distinguished artist who embodies the Creston Creed, excellence in the arts, and is a significant figure in church music and the performing arts.”

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