Life is full of lessons to be learned. When we’re thinking about how to best lead, promote, sing, or otherwise operate within the context of an a cappella group, it’s worth looking beyond the realm of a cappella itself to what other walks of life can teach us.
Over the summer of 2010, NBA superstar LeBron James made headlines when he decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign with the Miami Heat. While many remember this incident most for the vaunted way in which he proclaimed he was taking his talents to South Beach, what was more interesting from a purist’s perspective was the ramifications of the decision of LeBron James—without question, a top five NBA talent—to join a team with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, two other franchise players in their own rights, who weren’t out of place as starters on all-star teams.
More than a few people pointed out James bucked tradition as an premiere player who sought not to rise above all of the players around him, but rather to collude in an effort to dominate the league. Examples were thrown out about how Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan never paired up in any configuration for any longer than an all-star game, or an Olympic run. Despite the mutual respect these players like them shared, they were more invested in competing against one another and proving their supremacy than in contributing to an overloaded team that was a safer bet for winning a championship.
Other critics suggested that such a combination of talents would never work. Complementary as them men might be on paper, the NBA is a me-first league where superstars want the spotlight. Surely three super-talents couldn’t share the attention, the ball, and the leadership role.
For the first half to two-thirds of the 2010-2011 the move to South Beach looked like it could have been a bust, and casual fans were prepared to laugh off the supposed super team that won more than it lost, but still scarcely peeked its head out of the middle of the pack of NBA standings. But then the team gelled. The Heat came together for a late season surge that catapulted them up to second-place in the standings for the east, and fought their way all the way to the NBA Finals, beating the top ranked Chicago Bulls along the way.
The rise of the Miami Heat marked a paradigm shift. It wasn’t wholly original, but James, Wade and company capitalized on what Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen had touched upon before; what Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen started to uncover in Boston. A great team need not be marked with one alpha-dog. In fact, when that load is spread across two or even three people, it lightens the pressure on everyone, gives you options for who can take the lead on any given night, and offers up a better-rounded attack that is going to leave even the best of opposing teams unsure of how to play effective defense.
When it comes to a cappella groups, there’s a tendency for certain stars to arise. There’s the star soloist who always craves the spotlight, and certainly deserves ample time on lead vocals. There’s the musical director who does all of the arranging and makes all of the decisions about song selection. There’s the vocal percussionist who handles drums on every song.
There’s nothing wrong with everyone having roles in an a cappella group—in fact, for many parts of a group’s operations, it’s hard to imagine how you would operate without set roles. With that being said, it makes a lot of sense to spread out leadership responsibilities. One superstar soloist is great; but if you have two or three, there’s legitimately time for each of them to rest between their monster solos, and you can put forth a much better rounded presentation when you only have the chance to perform two or three songs in a guest appearance, or in competition. Likewise, if you have two or three masterminds when it comes to arranging and even to leading rehearsals, it takes a lot of undue stress off of just one person, and in turn allows everyone to remain fresher and takes turns playing good cop or bad cop. The bottom line is, when pressure is not squarely on one person’s shoulders, it affords that person some breathing room to not get burned out in the long run, and allows the rest of the group more buy-in as everyone feels as though he or she has an important leadership role.
Celebrate your Dwyane Wade. Don’t hesitate to bring your LeBron James into the fold. And don’t stop looking for your Chris Bosh.