Whether you’re a mix engineer, system tech, technical ministry leader or a member of a sound crew, some universal concepts apply to success in leadership. Attitude probably matters more than anything else, along with what we can bring to the table regardless of our job titles.
Here’s my list of eight things we can do to improve the results of any project through good leadership.
1) Personally accept responsibility when something goes wrong, even if someone else caused it. You don’t have to flat-out say “It was my fault,” but rather, “Let me get to the bottom of that” works well. Then make it right, without a fuss. We’ve all been burned when something was done incorrectly by someone else, but it’s how we recover that matters.
2) Assign praise for a job well done to the team. You may have just mixed the best show of your life, but when the compliments come, be sure to explain how the system tech is the best in the business, how the monitor mixer helps the talent perform their best, and how the house crew went above and beyond. (It doesn’t hurt to add how great the band is.)
3) Don’t punish the entire team for an individual’s issues. It’s a fairly common practice for managers to mass email or conference call about a problem. But if someone makes a critical mistake, shows bad judgment or is performing poorly, take it up with them privately. Belaboring an individual issue with everyone wastes their time and can be demoralizing.
4) Motivate by setting goals – some possible, some perhaps impossible. Having purpose and direction is important, whether the goal is large or small. And we often find out what we thought was impossible actually wasn’t. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from General George S. Patton: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
5) If you’re a manager, review the performance of team members regularly, either formally or informally. Discuss prior goals and whether (or not) they were reached, and set new goals. Be honest about the person’s progress and what areas need improvement. Even if you’re not in a management role, keep in mind that being a mentor to someone less experienced is an invaluable service requiring only two willing parties and the correct attitude in both.
6) Don’t interfere with someone’s work if it’s just a matter of opinion. This is where ego can get in the way. On one hand, we usually want things done a certain way, and for some of them, it’s important. There are time-tested methods for coiling cables, for instance. But other things can be done differently and it’s OK as long as the work gets done to the proper standard of quality. Team members allowed to make their own decisions gain confidence and take ownership.
7) Do something special for your team on occasion, and unexpectedly. Buy everyone breakfast burritos or pick up the tab for a round of beers after work. No need to be corny, but saying something like “I just wanted to say thanks for all of the things everyone does. This is a great team and I’m proud to be part of it” can really boost morale. Again, it doesn’t matter if we’re the lowly tech repairing XLR cables all day or the person who owns the company; it’s an act of beneficial leadership.
8) Lead by example. Ever met anyone who appreciates arm-chair quarterbacking? Me neither. Inspiration is drawn from people who are first in the fight and last off the battlefield. Over time and as our roles change, our actions change too. There comes a time when we might not be physically able to push cases up a ramp or lift monitor wedges. Yet there are still ways to lead from the front lines to show that we aren’t phoning it in.
Showing respect to everyone on the team is a good start, and keeping up on our technical skills and systems practices is a great way to dazzle the young whippersnappers. They may have grown up with iPads and DSP-based sound systems, but us old folks can still show them a thing or two, while having fun doing it!
And the next time you’re in Albuquerque, the breakfast burrito is on me.
Karl Winkler is director of business development at Lectrosonics and has worked in professional audio for more than 20 years.