What Does a Leader Look Like?

‘What Does A Leader Look Like?’ was the theme at a conference for South West arts organisations in February 2014.  Farooq Chaudhry, who became the Producer for English National Ballet in October 2013 gave a great talk about his experience and thoughts on this, alongside Sue Hoyle OBE, Director of the Clore Leadership Programme and Claire Hodgson, theatre/dance director and conference organiser. Lots of input and discussion came from around 100 cultural leaders involved in dance, theatre, music, circus, film, museums, libraries, freelance producers, Arts Council England and local authorities.

We talked about ‘cultural leaders’ and how to bring the next generation on. I thought I’d write a blog to give a flavour of the day for our Young Music Leaders and others involved in pushing creative ideas forward (e.g. on the Youth Music Network site). Through the day, words kept coming up that help define the qualities of a good leader. These are some of them:

Personal characteristics:

Attitude – Leadership is about attitude and approach, not qualifications and training.

Vision – filter all your dreams down to one or two that you and your team really love.

Excellence: Strive for the best.

Confidence. Have confidence in yourself and build it in others. Lack of confidence is the biggest barrier to action.

Trust your team – why are they with you if you don’t trust them?

Risk taking without gambling recklessly, experiment, try, believe in success.

Rebelliousness – don’t accept convention is best. Challenge the norm, push boundaries.

Make a difference. Stand up and be counted.

Empathy towards people.

Listening – your way may not be the best.

Respect for others and differing views.

Enthusiasm – communicate your belief in your vision.

Commitment and determination to see something through.

Perseverance to overcome problems.

Stamina – in it for the long haul.

Calm – panic can lead to bad decisions and wobble team confidence.

Honesty – openness identifies challenges that can be resolved.

Integrity – to your values and those of your team.

Patience – problems always arise and may delay progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Judgement – when exploring something new, you may not know the answer and there may be no right or wrong way; use your experience and knowledge to guide you.

Responsibility – own up to things that go wrong.

Leave ego behind. Its not about you, its about an idea.

Project delivery:

Teamwork – build a team that shares your vision, working for an idea, not you.

Diversity in your team – gives new ideas, ways of working, culture and approach.

Reducing barriers to become involved could involve approaches to work such as employing someone to achieve a task where payment is not based on the hours they work but on the value they bring to the project. This gives team members the flexibility to do the job in the time of their own choosing, not restricted to regular office hours. As long as they deliver the work by the deadline you have, they can work around commitments in their personal life such as childcare and looking after family elders.

Collaboration – other individuals and organisations can help you and add excellence. You don’t have to be alone.

Decide – the team can advise, but you should be decisive when needed.

Priority/select – lots of options may be open to you. Diluting your efforts could lead to loss of excellence. Stay focused.

Then there are all the normal processes of project management that are embedded in Youth Music’s and other good project work:

Research; plan; action; monitor; evaluate; share; adapt; repeat on a loop.

You know the score – it’s all in ‘Ideas Into Action’.

Can you add other leadership qualities?


Management, Communication and Teamwork

Teamwork is an essential part of your project. It is unlikely that you will have all the skills to achieve your aims and objectives on your own. Depending on the project, several people may be needed at the same time – at a gig you may need staff for stewards, bar, box office, musicians/DJ/VJs, sound/lighting engineer etc all at the same time. As a leader, you will need to bring in people to support you and they will need organising.

Watch the video (under 5 minutes) at the bottom of the page in this link, of Harvey Goldsmith, one of the UK’s iconic event promoters, giving great advice on the most important parts of event promotion. Excellent music business advice! It’s about problem solving and communication between a team.

People that support you will need to know what you want them to do and when to do it. You will need to feel confident they can do what they say they will do (do they have the right skills/ experience/ enthusiasm/ time?). It may be helpful to write down an agreement of what and when they will do something, especially if you are paying them to do it.

In an Ideas Tap blog how to manage creative peopleLive Art Development Agency Company Manager and freelance producer Aaron Wright says, “Involve people in the planning/delivery process and make them know their opinion is valued. Just because you’re leading the project doesn’t mean you’re always right. Sometimes others will come up with new and better ways of doing things. Don’t dismiss these offhand.”

Leadership is about attitude and approach. You don’t have to be qualified or experienced to be a good leader. You need confidence and belief in yourself. Lack of confidence is the biggest barrier to making things happen. We have written more about being a leader here.

Other good blogs about team leadership and management:

Good communication between the organising team is key to the success of a project/event.  Dorset Community Action says, “Keeping people in the loop will make them feel engaged, valued and respected, and so effort should be made to provide regular updates, not just regarding the project but relevant external developments too.” So many things go wrong when you think someone has done something and they haven’t, especially if it is a critical action. If you are managing the team and there are tasks other people are doing, make sure they know the deadline dates (your SMART objectives). They should check in with the team leader to say they have done it or warn the leader there may be a problem/delay. If they don’t, the leader should check back with them to make sure it’s done and help solve any problems causing a delay.

As part of the resources you’ll need, make sure you have the means to communicate with everyone you need to at the appropriate speed. The quicker you need a response, the quicker and more direct the tools need to be – letter, email, phone or e.g. stewards may need radio with earpieces at a large gig.

If you have arranged something weeks beforehand, remind people and check all is OK a few days before they are supposed to do something – e.g. turn up and play at your gig!

Communicating and keeping an eye on the action timetable is so important!

Write your plan down – in words e.g. ‘to do’ lists, as a Gantt chart or as a tree. Tick off the things you’ve done. It will give you confidence knowing you’ve thought of everything and can manage to do it all. It’s also a back up – if you fell ill and couldn’t carry on, someone else will have to complete the tasks and will need to know what to do.

To find the list and links to all B Sharp’s posts about event and project planning, go here: Ideas into Action

Links to other music resources, compiled by B Sharp, can be found here. Especially relevant, if you want to develop project planning and management skills is Links To Youth Enterprise And Music Business.

Introduction to Event and Project Planning

These notes are for young promoters and emerging leaders and are intended to help you successfully organise events and projects you may want to put on. The principles explained here can be used for any type of project you want to do in the future.

By the end of these notes you should understand some of the basics of

To find a list and links to all B Sharp’s posts about event and project planning, go to Ideas into Action

Links to other music resources, compiled by B Sharp, can be found here.

What is planning?

Planning is about having an idea, thinking ahead and deciding on how to make it happen, ensuring that the resources required for any actions will be available, and timetabling work to achieve what you want to happen. A plan does not have to be complicated or lengthy.

We plan many things in our everyday lives – our holidays, what’s for dinner, shopping, homework etc. It’s not a difficult step to apply these skills to projects.

Why plan?

An event is more likely to be successful if it has been well planned in advance. Projects and business are about juggling risk and reward. The bigger and more complicated a project is, the more things can go wrong. Planning will help avoid hiccups in the middle of the project.

Planning will help you

  • Know if the idea is realistic and achievable.
  • Find out how much it will cost to put your plans into action.
  • Get people to come or involved by finding and telling them about your idea.
  • Know if it was successful and improve it in the future.

Your project may start from something that frustrates you and you want to do something about it, or you’ve spotted a gap in the market that you’d like to fill. Is there something that isn’t going on but you think should? You probably have a rough idea or vision of what you’d like to see happen.

The most important thing about any project is to have a good understanding of why you have your idea and what you want to achieve. What made you think about it? Why do you want to do it? When you know what you want to get out of doing something, you can start thinking about how you will get there and make it happen.

The more you get into project planning and management, the more you will come across the phrase ‘aims and objectives’. These are about ways of thinking, to help you get the right result and are the foundation of projects. They are explained in the next blog.