Considering the role of creativity in change, I really searched for some big, hairy, audacious approaches to creativity that leaders can use. Reflecting on my past, I realized that the leaders that most inspired me did something within the realm of a small, sincere change.
In Elementary School I was elected to the Honor Choir. This was a city choir where two children from each Elementary School were chosen based upon try-outs. I remember, at the tender age of ten, walking into a big room with a piano and having a man play a chord at which point he said “sing the middle note.” Yep, that was nerve wracking. But boy am I glad I did it, because the Honor Choir director was a man named Frank Lindgren, and I will never forget him.
He stood approximately 5′ 6″ tall, had grey hair, and an incredible passion for music. He rewrote most of the music that we sang, putting it into three parts – soprano, second soprano, and alto (we were, after all, only eight through twelve years old). He could get sound out of young children that would absolutely blow you away. To that point, we once backed up opera singer Beverly Sills in a performance of “Climb Every Mountain.” Talk about an amazing experience!
He demanded perfection; our practices were intense, and if he heard someone off-key he made each section sing, then each row of kids, then each individual choir member until he found the sour note. We had tears (a few were mine), but we knocked ourselves out for him. So how did he inspire such small children to work so hard? Here’s an example. We were to sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic as a finale in our last performance. On the last verse, were were to sing acapella. But Mr. Lindgren changed something subtle. The original verse is:
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Mr. Lindgren stood in front of us and let us know that he believed we could make a change in this world without having to die for it, that he believed we could do amazing things while we’re alive. He didn’t want people to let themselves off the hook, he wanted us all to feel responsible for creating change while we’re here. So, he rewrote one word of the verse:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Small change, right? Not to us, because we loved the passion behind what he said and we believed in his purpose. That night, in our final performance, our final song, our final verse, we prepared to crescendo on the word live. And we did, with the honor band horn section joining us. Right at that moment in the performance the parents began to clap, jumping to their feet in a rousing standing ovation. Tears streamed down Mr. Lindgren’s face, tears streamed down our faces, and parents were hunting for tissues as they clapped and cheered. I don’t think it was so much the change of the lyrics as it was the passion and joy we put behind it. And, you know why we had that much passion? Because we loved our leader. We adored him. He cared enough to take the time to rewrite scores for third through six graders, and he cared enough to explain to us why he changed one word.
He showed us respect by taking the time to make the music work for us. He provided guidance by explaining why he changed a single word, and he exhibited passion with his tears as we sang that word. One leader, made a small, creative change that changed my life. Are you changing lives with your leadership?