Is about playing nice with others, singing Kumbaya and not rocking the boat too much or can singing a different song sometimes be what leadership is really about?

Steffan Surdek
September 10, 2013

I noticed a while ago that in some environments, there is this perception that leadership is about playing nice with others and not rocking the boat too much. In other words, in these environments, it seems like it is best to sit by the fire, roast the marshmallows, be happy and sing Kumbaya along with everybody else.

One such place for me, is the weekly Tribal Leadership Approval group call. It is a great place to hang out and there are many intelligent people that join the call every week but I often seem to have this Kumbaya experience during the call.

How can you discover such places in your life? Look around you in your daily environment, is there a place you go to because you feel you have to? Is there a place you go to because you feel that you owe it to someone else to be there but your heart is not into it because it does not feed you and you do not see the purpose of being there?

For you, it may be a weekly team meeting, or it may be a management meeting. Heck it could even be that annual family party that you attend just because… Because you have to… Because it will create a mess if you do not go… because you would rather go through the motions of being there than deal with the consequences of not going at all…

So you go to this place, you pull up a chair close to the fire and you sing Kumbaya. You roast the marshmallows even though you know your heart and mind are actually somewhere else… You see and hear things that make no sense or that make you mad but you still sit there and sing Kumbaya because the alternatives are not something you want to consider.

What are the alternatives exactly?

Well, you could just stop showing up. It may create an initial shockwave but folks will get over it right? Heck, the truth of it is, some people may not even notice there is one less voice around the fire. Another possibility is that some people may try to guilt you back in because you made a choice that does not even seem possible to them.

The other alternative though depends on how much you truly deeply care about this place. It also requires a lot more courage because it will require you to truly show up and express what you truly believe in. The alternative is to sing a different song and let people know how you truly feel.

You may find that after expressing yourself, people just resume their song right where they left off. You may also find that what you said does not resonate with others at all but something else could happen as well… Other voices may also step up to support yours but you will never know until you put yourself out there first

Being a leader means there are times where you will be singing a different song and you may very well be the only person singing it for a while. Being a leader means there are times when you need to create this disruption for the greater good and in service to others. Being a leader means there are times you need to have the courage to disrupt and not just sing Kumbaya.

Before you disrupt anything, get clear on your intentions. You are disrupting this in service of who or in service of what? As a triad (Carrie, David and I), we disrupted our weekly Tribal Leadership Approval call a bit over a month ago. We expressed our need for change and invited others down the path of changing things to reach another level as a community. The disruption created some noise but it also created a wind of change in the community.

Bringing your disruption with a certain level of mindfulness and respect is key. Create space so that other people can come and sing the new song and better yet create enough space for others to be able to write a new song along with you.

Creating a disruption to provoke change takes courage but mindfully choosing to stop singing anymore or not showing up around the camp fire takes courage as well. When enough people willfully decide to stop singing a song, it could mean it is no longer worth singing at all. When some things fade away and disappear new and exciting things have space to emerge.

Where do you sing Kumbaya in your life? What does that trigger in you? Are you going to just keep singing? How could you provoke something new?