How To Thrive Under Poor Leadership

For Your Own Good

While a cappella is typically a group endeavor amidst a niche, but large community, For Your Own Good focuses on what individuals can do for their own betterment in this realm.

While there does exist a small handful of people who can legitimately say they’ve never had a bad boss, they’re few and far between. In the context of an a cappella group—and particularly a collegiate group—there’s a pretty good chance the people promoted to leadership roles have been so less based on actual leadership abilities than on their own musical talents and demonstrated commitment to the group.

Sometimes, that works. After all, dedication and musical know-how are a goodly portion of the battle when it comes to finding someone qualified to run an a cappella group. But what happens when the leaders fail as motivators or organizers? When poor leadership descends upon a group, that does not necessarily mean its time to abandon ship or phone it in until someone you like better has the director’s chair. Instead, think about how you can make the most of the situation from yourself.

Take leadership. I’m not suggesting you stage a coup, but rather that you look for opportunities to fill the gaps in leadership. Is the music director too insensitive in levying criticism during rehearsal? Without undercutting her authority, take a moment to encourage and boost the spirit of the person who took a verbal beating. Are details falling through when your business manager books shows? Offer your services as assistant business manager, and develop a checklist of details you both need to be mindful of.

Set the example. If you don’t like the way your own director shows up late for rehearsals, don’t feed into a negative culture by showing up late yourself—keep doing things the right way and demonstrate what you’d like to see from your leader and everyone else.

Learn from bad examples. While most of us would prefer to learn from positive role models and emulate their behavior, there’s also something to be said for observing what doesn’t work, and thinking about why. You can internalize these lessons and develop your personal leadership toolkit for when the time comes that you do have more power.

Sing your best. Don’t let poor leadership affect your singing. It’s easy to become unmotivated or to even consciously sabotage a group you no longer believe in. When you always sing your best, no one can say you were part of the problem—even if you’re the lone bright spot in a lackluster year, do your best and keep your skills sharp for next year.

Be patient. Leaders of student groups are generally, themselves, students. They may not know what they’re doing when they first take the reins of your a cappella group, but give them time to find their own voices and learn from their early mistakes, and you may be pleasantly surprised that, as the months go by, they’ll evolve into competent leaders. Don’t write someone off for a mistake or two. Practice your patience—it’s a trait you’ll be glad to have as you move through your musical career and life.