And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.
Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
Morale is such a fragile thing – a collective sentiment in the group spun of gossamer threads, stronger than steel but delicate and ephemeral. This little snap shot of a team in action was also a reminder of the power of music & a leader who kept the team performing in the face of adversity because she had remembered an old French kayaking song her father had taught her to keep the paddles in rhythm.
Inspiration is a much hyped but usually sterile discussion within leadership. It refers to the ability to generate the sort of emotional response that lifts performance. In all my years of leading and observing teams I’ve very rarely seen teams ‘inspired’ by leadership – but I have seen them moved by the power of music to create an emotional response.
In WWII in the Western Desert the SAS adopted Marlene Dietrich’s Lilie Marlene as an unofficial anthem. Siegfried Sassoon’s poignant poem at the start of this post summons up the same image of music’s power. The Regiment still retains its affection for the melancholy tune. Anyone who’s ever stood in close proximity to a corps of military drums wont doubt their ability to quicken the blood and the idea of rushing through fire toward an enemy suddenly seems less implausible.
Advertisers, marketing professionals and the film industry have long understood the power of music to generate mood and transmit emotion. This is also the reason why elite athletes and their performance psychologists use music to help anchor focus and a performance mindset. The right music becomes an important part of the anticipation and preparation for performance. Interestingly research is still not clear on the mechanism for our emotional response, though I once worked with a University Lecturer whose personal theory was that music at some level predates language and that it retains an ancient connection to something deep in our unconscious minds.
I’m not sure what lesson distills out of these brief observations but I think it connects to the collective mindset of the team. Too often we may see the morale of the group as a phenomena like the weather. It just turns up, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. Actually morale and mindset are both a leader and a team member’s responsibility. A responsibility first on every team member to manage their own mindset, to build and sustain the positive and minimize and control the negative. A responsibility second, to help nurture and support the mindset too of your teammates. Thirdly and ultimately a leaders responsibility to set the emotional tone of the team, primarily through the power of their example.