Dare (to Sing) to Lead

This week is a guest post by Ian Carrick

Picture 100 C-level managers from a Fortune 500 company sitting around 8-foot round tables in an air conditioned carpeted ballroom. 70 percent men. 30 percent international, from India, Europe, South Korea and Singapore. In your minds eye, what are they doing? writing? talking? learning? planning?...singing?!

Starting at 7am, I discretely sat along the wall of this room, my heart pounding right into my throat. I listened attentively as my colleague and mentor Moe Carrick slowly and skillfully warmed them up to the idea that courage and vulnerability are inevitably intertwined, that courage and vulnerability are learned skills not innate attributes, that we're avoiding tough conversations at work because we often lack these skills, and that our avoidance is costing us in squandered time and dissatisfied employees.

"How are you feeling?" she asked. Silence. "You all do know what feelings are, right?" Mumbled laughter.

After lunch, with the Dare to Lead™ concepts fresh on minds of these leaders, it was time to practice. With no preamble, I strummed up a bass line on my guitar and started singing "if you get too worried, what you ought to do is sing." I looked into these peoples' eyes as I sang. I saw faces that said "wow, this is cool." I saw other faces that said "get me out of this room right now."

"So, we're going to be singing, together," I began. Laughter. "Groups of people who work together have use singing as a technology of belonging for thousands of years. Research about non-performance group singing shows it boosts our oxytocin and endorphin levels, creating trust and connection, and lowers our cortisol levels, relaxing our whole system. Singing is inherently vulnerable. You cannot engineer the discomfort out of it. My hope is to leave you all with a kinesthetic, physical experience of what vulnerability feels like in your body so that you can practice leading through discomfort."

I was seriously nervous going into this session. Here I was, probably the one of the youngest people in the room, asking everyone to get waaaay outside their comfort zone. But I trust in the work, I trust in the singing. And to my great relief, I saw the value this brought to these leaders.

After singing together, taking risks, making mistakes and listening, these leaders seemed more able to identify their feelings (less in their heads). They experienced vulnerability (which is practicing courage) and felt the benefits when they heard how great we sounded.

If, as Brené Brown claims, a leader is someone who "takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential," group singing is a juicy metaphor. For a group song to take off, we actually have to listen more than we sing. We listen 60 percent and sing 40 percent. We lean into the group potential more than we're focused on our own part. Our greatest contribution is in noticing others, even as we do our own work.

Here is a sneak peek of the work we did.

Moe Carrick