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Leadership Principles No Matter Your Role

Updated: May 9, 2021

You may be the CEO leading the institution, a vice president or director leading a team, or a board chair leading an assembly of dedicated, civic-minded volunteers. Or maybe you perceive yourself as the low person on the org chart with nobody reporting to or influenced by you. Perhaps you’re a one-person shop, wearing scores of hats atop your cranium.

No matter your role in an institution, you’re a leader. And with any position of leadership comes occasional frustration, warring and competing demands for attention or resources, and the consistent need to influence others.

Granted, this is coming from me, a person whose Strengths Finder traits solidly reside in the “influencer” quadrant. So, as you might anticipate, I see a great opportunity to influence others positively through effective leadership.

Sometimes small things make a big difference.

Whereas in leadership, oftentimes small things make an outsized difference.

A professor I had while an undergraduate student drilled into our heads a principle I still value. I can still hear him now:

“Ok, ok, hold on! Stop, stop. You said, ‘I want you to sing this passage more legato (smoothly) instead of so mechanically,’” I can still hear Dr. Douglas Amman saying.

“Yeah, that’s right. I think we all saw the music is marked legato by the composer, and the choir wasn’t singing it as smoothly as it could,” responded the graduate student selected to conduct the ensemble in that particular piece of music.

“That’s right, I couldn’t agree with you more. It wasn’t legato whatsoever. But that’s not my concern. You said, ‘I want.’”

Responded the grad student, “Well, yes, I’m on the podium, I’m the conductor for this piece, and that falls to me to direct the choir. I wasn’t rude or terse.”

“Wrong,” Dr. Amman said with a wry smile and a thumbs down from his big hands that surely, confidently guided thousands of young musicians over the decades. “This is not about you. This is about the music. And this is about the choir bringing that music to life.”

Dr. Amman, or DA as we called him, went on, “We are in this together. We’re the same team. And without the choir holding up its part of the deal, you will be conducting to an empty room. Instead of saying ‘I want you to…’ consider saying, ‘let’s try singing this more legato,’ or ‘the music needs us to sing this more legato,’”

I realized then, the leader on the podium is only guiding, not instructing or commanding. The choir is considerably more likely to observe the legato – and perhaps even notice the legato marking printed on the music self-realized without the conductor’s nagging – if they’re empowered to do so.

Fast forward a few decades later, I still believe an effective leader must build autonomy, pride of product, and be in it with their teams. They don’t do things at their team.

Choose your words and your actions closely. Be willing to put in as much work as (if not more than) you ask your team to invest. Lead by example. Be the leader that your team wants (and needs) you to be.

Is the actual takeaway of this story about using “we” versus “I,” or is this actually more about being intentional or mindful with your ways and with your words? That’s for you to decide. After all, no matter your role with the institution, you have the opportunity to be a great leader.

Michael Pettry


Cape Fletcher Associates

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