Self-Management and Synchronicity

Take one champion-step-dancing mom and a fiddle-playing dad from the Canadian heartland. Add eleven brothers and sisters, eight of whom have more talent than most living human beings, and what do you get? A musical phenomenon called Leahy.

I was lucky enough to catch one of their Christmas Tour concerts a few years ago, and they provided a fascinating glimpse into their amazing world of self-evidently effective self-management.

If you can, watch this clip before continuing:


A few (okay, ten) observations about what makes Leahy so great, and how they relate to self-management in organizations:

1. History and Culture. Leahy (the family’s last name), the band, consists of eight of the eleven Leahy siblings. Before the siblings come onstage, the disembodied voices of their mom and dad are broadcast to the audience. Consisting of random memories of past Christmases on their Ontario cattle ranch, the parents’ musings were a cultural touchstone, infusing their performance with power and meaning. They even brought an old couch onstage to recreate the times spent playing music all night long in their family living room—a significant cultural artifact reinforcing their connectedness to the past.

2. Mission. The implicit mission of the band is to share their own obvious joy in playing music with other people. Clear, simple and coherent. There is no doubt that every Leahy sibling supports that mission wholeheartedly and joyfully. Their website says it best: “Leahy (LAY-he): noun, verb, adjective. A family. A musical group of brothers and sisters, a sound, a style of music, a way of life, a volcanic explosion of talent and energy, intense emotion, and feral passion.”

3. Leadership. Donnell, the oldest brother, serves as the emcee and appears to be the chief orchestrator. But those roles do not preclude leadership revolving to the others during the course of the evening. In fact, on any particular song, there may be anywhere from two to eight siblings on the stage performing. They come and go as the needs of the concert dictate, without direction. On singing numbers, the lead singer (usually one of the sisters) takes the reins of leadership, exhorting the band as well as the audience to join in. Leadership in Leahy, during a performance, appears to rotate to the brother or sister with the most “expertise” on a particular song.

4. Strategy and Process. Discussing the approach to constructing a Christmas concert, Donnell described conversations with his siblings to collect and incorporate their input on how the concert should flow. There is a clear strategy required to put together a concert series. And there is a “business process”, formal or informal, for gathering ideas and executing the strategy. Example: the couch idea came from sister Denise, who insisted on it as a reminder of Christmases past.

5. Collaboration. The siblings demonstrate obvious care and concern—and appreciation–for each other and each other’s gifts, reflected in the collaborative process used to construct their concerts. It would be hard to imagine one of the siblings trying to be a “boss”, directing his or her own brothers and sisters what, where, when and how to practice and perform. Just wouldn’t work.

6. Individual Virtuosity and Execution. Each sibling seems to play multiple instruments, in addition to step dancing (the sisters do most of the singing, however). They are individually recognized as some of the finest individual musicians in the world. Erin, the piano player, is ambidextrous and can play the fiddle upside-down. Amazing, world-class talent, clearly based on tons of practice and hard work. As individuals, they clearly shoot for perfection.

7. Teamwork. Leahy is a wonderful example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. As individuals, they are world-class virtuosos. Playing and dancing together—in perfect synchronicity–as members of a family who obviously love each other, they create magic. Check out the finale to the video link above.

8. Mentorship. The siblings have an intentional effort to bring along the “next Leahy generation”. To that end, they brought out the six-year-old son of the drummer, Frank, to perform a complex step dance. The young man’s performance was absolutely perfect, triggering a standing ovation. The encouragement of his seven aunts and uncles (and father) was obvious in their broad smiles. It wouldn’t have mattered to anyone if he’d made a mistake, since he was obviously shooting for perfection–and just happened to nail it.

9. Real-Time Feedback, Empowerment. Several times during the performance, a stagehand would dart onto to the stage to adjust a piece of sound equipment, even though the audience could hear no obvious sound glitch. To Leahy, however, there had to be a reason for the adjustments—and they have much higher performance standards than the average concertgoer. Given their level of virtuosity and synchronicity, it seems likely that they have empowered their road crew to deal with perceived glitches in real time. No one needed to be told what to adjust and how to adjust it. They just did what the situation required, on their own.

10. Flat Organization. The band’s name speaks for itself: Leahy. Each sibling is biologically and musically a Leahy, so no band member necessarily stands out above the rest—a quintessential flat organization. Since it would be massively counterproductive to make decisions lacking consensus support (all members are needed to create a full sound), it’s likely that whatever decision-making processes Leahy employs are highly effective in achieving buy-in and focusing group effort.

For more information, check out this amazing family at www.leahymusic.com. Even better, see them live.

Photo Credit: By Tabercil (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons; https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fa/Leahy.jpg; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALeahy.jpg

A version of this essay was published at the Morning Star Self-Management Institute website, December 5, 2009.

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