I’ve been reading up on how successful leaders can improve the wellbeing of their staff and something struck me today. One article suggested we “offer constructive feedback and praise”. I thought this was a given?

As far as choirs go, the best ‘singers’ are not necessarily the best leaders. I’m no Mariah Carey and you won’t catch me on the X factor – quite frankly, right now I sound terrible due to a long lasting case of sopranoitis – I think I sang too high….

However, I sing in tune with a clear voice. It’s not threatening to anyone and is easy to hear and therefore easy to follow. The whole point of our rehearsals is that what we set out to do is achievable. And that’s down to leadership. If I set a goal that was too far away, it demoralises my singers, they start to feel that they ‘can’t do it’ and this creates a negative atmosphere and feelings. They are then reluctant to attend the next session and people start to not attend at all. It becomes more difficult to teach songs with people missing and we end up writing some songs off. The mood is lost, the choir falters and gradually looses its appeal to anyone.

I set realistic goals. I break down each little bit and teach it in a way that they will understand. I usually start with teaching the chorus because once that is finished it keeps on returning so singers get a sense of feeling “ooohhh I know this bit!” in the middle of a song. And I praise them.

Photo credit Jackie Shears.

Praise. It’s a tricky thing. I’m very enthusiastic but I still have to be mindful of not over-praising and sound like I’m talking to a room full of children. And yet, like children, we really do love to hear praise! I never single anyone out who’s not getting things exactly right – its demoralising and mean. But I do point out when things aren’t right. What’s the point in telling people things are right when they’re not?! The feedback needs to be constructive so that they can very quickly get it right, then the negative feelings associated with when it was wrong disappear, quickly. Nobody likes getting things wrong so it’s essential to have the flexibility to shift plans around to enable me to spend more time with people to get it right.

We go over things in such detail that everyone feels like they’re getting enough teaching especially when it’s a tricky part. For example, the other night I taught 2 songs and the greens (my lower alto section) had the hardest part both times. I acknowledged this. Yes, you can listen to it again, yes its hard, yes you’re getting there and YES you’ve nailed it. I also follow this up with online comments and acknowledgements specifically to that group.

Does it work? Yes. The singers feel valued and looked after. They feel like there efforts have been appreciated and they also feel that what we’ve set out to do is achievable. And how does this affect their wellbeing?

(singing in the choir) “It opens up such new possibilities and helps you discover your own voice. Such a friendly and warm environment where you can feel safe and most importantly ENJOY singing your socks off, regardless of your ability” Jane Hunting

“Kari is such a happy, positive teacher, she’s addictive and she pulled 25 of us into shape in 3 sessions” Sharron Whitehall

“Kari manages to make learning music easy and fun” Christine Watson

“Kari is a great teacher and has a true talent for getting the best out of even the most inhibited singers and I have been amazed at the progress we have made” Rachel Cox

Does this resonate with your leadership? Is your feedback constructive and kind? How do you praise staff? What changes can you make today to lead more positively?

Photo credit Jackie Shears