Published: September 13, 2008

The content of character

Say it's so, Joe . . .The great former St. Louis Cardinals MVP third-baseman and all-star manager Joe Torre, when discussing baseball teams, said, “Chemistry does not create winning; winning creates chemistry.”

Sage words, too, for pipe bands.

It’s funny how pipe band people get along so well when they win a lot, and how they crumble when they don’t. We see it all the time when bands are upgraded, especially in those making the jump from Grade 2 to Grade 1. Almost always, the band was winning everything in Grade 2 one year, and the next season becomes a distant also-ran in Grade 1.

That “fun” that everyone was having suddenly becomes not-so-fun, and all the back-slapping people did when they were winning turns into back-stabbing. The band’s chemistry fractures into cliques, the pipers stop talking to the drummers, and the biggest camp tries to take control, ousting the leader.

It’s true of leadership itself. If you take a look at the world’s most successful bands they have a major thing in common: leadership continuity. Terry Lee, Richard Parkes, Robert Mathieson, Terry Tully, Bill Livingstone . . . all of them have been in charge of their bands for more than 20 years.

It’s not a recent phenomenon. Over time, there have been numerous examples of consistent winning with steady leadership: Iain McLeod, Tom McAllister, Bob Hardie, John McAllister, Iain MacLellan . . . none of these greats were flash-in-the-pans.

I’d also bet that most of these guys have or had steady professional careers and enduring personal relationships.

Based on what I have observed, some possible advice to bands recruiting a new leader would be to search for someone with demonstrated commitment and consider these questions:

  • How many bands has he/she played with?
  • How many jobs has the person held?
  • Does the candidate stay with personal relationships or regularly fall out with people?
  • How did he/she do in school?
  • Has the person contributed to the piping and drumming scene in ways that go beyond personal achievements?

These are all indicators of the content of the potential leader’s character.

Without fail, the bands that have leadership changes have mixed results. And mixed results mean not winning consistently. Not winning consistently results in loss of chemistry, which means loss of fun, dissension and a rush to make leadership changes. With some bands, it’s a cycle.

Too often, too, bands tend to look outside of their membership for a new leader. They want the guy with all the solo medals or creative juices, and they often overlook the stalwart, long-serving member who has stuck with the group through thick and thin, the guy who understands that the “band” is much more than just winning.

Admittedly, bands do look internally first, only to find that no one is willing to make the commitment required of a pipe-major. That’s another topic, but suffice it to say that every band should have someone ready, willing and able to take over, and every pipe-major should groom his or her successor.

When it comes to effective leadership, commitment and continuity and confidence are far more important in a leader than superior playing ability and creativity. If the committed leader is not a great player or composer, he or she will most certainly have the management skills and self-confidence to find and surround him or herself with the needed talent.

Great chemistry starts with winning, and winning happens – over time – with well chosen, committed leadership.

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