Leadership Lessons From Wrigley Field


Living in the north Chicago suburbs, it's been fairly exciting here of late. As you can well imagine. I've not been a lifelong Cubs fan...truth is, I married into the madness. But having cheered them on for 20 years, and more often than not suffered frustration watching defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, this has been a long time coming for me as well.

What's been most fascinating and rewarding for me has been watching this young team be influenced by the leadership work of their manager, Joe Maddon, who will likely have Michigan Avenue renamed in his honor. Because of my background, I tend to see leadership styles through the lens of music education. And a comparison thought finally struck me the other day that made complete sense.

Joe Maddon is that music teacher who comes along, takes over a small music program that's never amounted to much, and makes it soar to dizzying heights of success.

We've all seen it happen. A music program with a revolving door of leadership that constantly struggles, always at the bottom of the heap at contest, never balanced instrumentation or voices. And all of a sudden--presumably out of nowhere--a new director has kids coming out of the woodwork to participate. Then they're starting to sound good at state festival. The parent booster organization becomes this well-oiled machine of fundraising, uniform-organizing, equipment-moving experts. Then they're sounding great. Then they're the buzz at the state music conference ("Have you heard this group?"). It doesn't happen overnight--and certainly neither did the Cubs--but it happens.

So what's the trick? If we can draw parallels to what we just saw in the season leading up to the World Series, it might be this.

Believe. Sometimes when a music program has been down long enough, they never expect to achieve anything. That had certainly been the case with the Chicago Cubs. But Joe Maddon has said that he doesn't believe in the infamous Cubs' curse. His philosophy was to acknowledge the past, but expect something good to happen and not wait for the worst. And he summed it up best in the press conference after the big win: "If you just want to carry the burden with you all the time, tonight would never happen."

Baby steps. Neither Maddon nor team president Theo Epstein set out to win the World Series the first year. But that was very clearly the eventual goal. They knew where they wanted to go and that it would take time and victories large and small on the way. Step by step methodical approaches and planning...along with some good fortune...all led to that game 7 win in Cleveland. And that is how any good music program will grow.

They do what works for them. One of the different things that tended to make the news here in Chicago were their "themed" road trips. Traveling in pajamas, Wacky suits. Football jerseys. While this probably wasn't something that most professional ball clubs would do because of the silliness factor...this was something that Maddon thought would catch on with this team of very young players. What it did was allow these ballplayers to relax, let their guard down a bit, trust each other, and enjoy the experience more. Which leads to the next point.

If it's not about winning, you've won. One of Maddon's philosophies has been "Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure." The day they needed to leave Chicago for game 6 in Cleveland was October 31. Rather than get to Cleveland early for more practice, he had the players take time to take their kids Halloween trick or treating. In a situation where every game was a "do or die" situation, they instead took time to remember to have fun. They arrived rested and relaxed, and the rest is history.

They take ownership. In that final game of the Series, when what looked like another Chicago Cubs death spiral was beginning to form and the rain delay hit, it was outfielder Jason Heyward who is credited with rallying the team in the locker room during the delay break. Maddon, who famously hates meetings, was in the dugout checking the weather report. It was the ownership that the individual players had taken in achieving the overall goal that motivated them to regroup, refocus, and move forward.

There was a magical quality watching this season unfold, just like there is when you watch an underdog music program finally succeed. You know that great things are happening, and you look forward to what might be coming next.

Here's to next year.

First Year Music Teachers: The Adventure is Just Beginning

The 2016-17 school year is now or very soon will be underway. Our teenage sons are continually reminding us of this. And not in an enthusiastic way.

With the new year there will be a new wave of music educators, out of college and leaping into their first teaching job. And to any new teachers reading this we say, congratulations...welcome to one of the greatest and most important professions in the world. We've been where you are. Your adventure is only beginning.

Part of our mission here at Festivals of Music is to do all we can to provide helpful resources to teachers--whether new or experienced--in order to make the job somewhat easier and contribute to reversing the trend of shortened teaching lifespans among the music teacher population. Speaking for myself, burnout on the profession is something I know all too well.

Don't get me wrong--I'm very happy with my lives as a performance travel planner and now festival organizer. I've still considered myself an educator in these roles. But there are things I regret not having achieved or experienced during the time I was in the rehearsal room and concert hall.

Well, so far anyway...who knows what the future could bring. I could still be asked to conduct Lincolnshire Posy on a future Eastman Wind Ensemble concert. Admittedly, the only qualifier I have to that possibility is the fact that I'm still taking in oxygen. But there's always hope. 

Because being a resource for music educators is at the core of our philosophy, we have begun partnering with organizations such as the National Band Association to create online resources for music educators to assist not only musically, but with the day to day administrative tasks and challenges. These are the topics for which there is not as much collegiate training and is by nature "on the job" training. And, sadly, often the factors that lead to short tenures in the music education world.

We're tapping into a network of experienced teachers to bring together best practices on a number of topics, and you'll see more of that on our blog in the weeks and months to come. Stay tuned.

To jump start that process--we wanted to present some of the blog posts from the past year that might be most helpful to young teachers that are just beginning on their journey. Or, for that matter, experienced teachers just needing to see things through new eyes.

Here they are, at the risk of producing the equivalent of our blog's first "clip show":

  • Upon reflection of 25 years in great professions that can still be stressful, here's some thoughts on self care so that you can make it for the long haul.
  • One of the best things you can do for yourself is recharge at music conferences. For band and orchestra directors, here's some of the great things experienced last year at the Midwest Clinic. Consider attending if you haven't--we would love to see you there.
  • If one of the "to-dos" on your list this year is to take your ensemble on tour, we hope you'll give some thought to why and how this can best benefit your group.
  • If you are going to plan to tour with your group, here's reasons to consider a professional travel provider.
  • If on that tour you are considering a festival performance (and we hope you are!), here are ten reasons it can be the best option for your group. And, here are suggestions on how to get the most out of the experience.

There's more to come, and we look forward to sharing the journey with you. Bon voyage!