The Superpower We All Have (but don’t use)

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Feeling needed, valued, seen, and appreciated are all things we humans like. When people acknowledge what others do or bring to a company or organization, it can be extremely powerful. It can make the person work harder, stay with the company longer, and feel more connected to the organization.

Although the orchestra world actively thanks and acknowledges patrons and sponsors regularly (for the most part), is there enough acknowledgement within the organization itself?

Over the past couple decades as a professional musician, I’ve heard several voices expressing a lack of appreciation or understanding of what they do or bring to their organization. This is not always the case, but after hearing a few repeats over the years I wanted to bring up a few points.

  • Has there been acknowledgment or an understanding of what musicians have spent on their instruments or education?
  • Do people appreciate board members’ time as volunteers sharing their schedule, expertise, and/or financial gifts?
  • Is it noticed that some staff members put in extra time over weekends or work late into the evening after a full workday/week?
  • Do musicians value their colleagues’ time and commitment when serving on committees?
  • Has the stagehand or manager been made to feel valued and needed when things are going smoothly?
  • Does anyone value the planning of programs, a year or two in advance, by the music director and executive director?

The list surely could go on and on. The point is, in an organization such as a symphonic orchestra, there are many components that make it go, but not a lot of inner appreciation or acknowledgement. Of course, there are some exceptions, but I think it might be a good time to take note of the positive aspects musicians, board members, management, staff, volunteers, etc. do, and thank them or let them know they are seen.

I posted a query on social media last month asking various stakeholders of orchestras to share where they didn’t feel acknowledged or appreciated. A lot of the sentiments were reflected above, but then there were comments that I never thought of. There were things that I took for granted or didn’t (yet) understand that made the symphony function or look outstanding. One key example was acknowledging the people who have played key roles behind the scenes these past two years of streaming concerts. Have we ever thanked the people in charge of the video editing/live stream scripting captures, for example?

In this business, it’s easy to shame and blame. We see a problem or deficiency and we put all our focus onto it, pointing and wagging fingers. While it’s healthy to acknowledge what is not working, it is most unhealthy to ignore what is working.

It’s no secret that working within a symphonic organization can be frustrating and there are certainly disagreements in how an organization should be or could be run. But there is also room for allowing people to be seen, to let them know they are needed, appreciated, wanted, and sincerely valued. There are numerous studies and articles to back this up. Recent ones I found were at Fortune Magazine and Harvard Business Review which had some interesting perspectives.

As we hopefully ease out of this pandemic, try to fill empty positions, and replace people who have moved on, we need to understand and practice the superpower of acknowledgment and appreciation.

And as a final thought, in the category of thanking and acknowledging people, there is another interesting perspective by Second City’s Kelly Leonard, who is the Executive Director of Learning and Applied Improvisation at Second City Works. This is a bonus or next level skill: Thank You, Because. Have a listen to the short podcast here or read or listen to an interview from the Cleveland Clinic “Being Seen and Heard” to get a good idea how this method is beneficial.

In a nutshell, Thank you, because allows for differences to be amicable. An example of this technique could be two people working for the same orchestra with opposite views of the direction of the orchestra. Instead of yelling or blaming the other person, a simple, “Thank you, because it sounds like we both want what is best for the orchestra” allows for the people in the conversation to acknowledge they both want what is best. It shows each person that they are listening to the other person, which shows empathy and keeps a doorway open. I highly recommend listening to Kelly’s take on this in the podcasts linked above for a more thorough explanation!

In the meantime, if you are in the orchestra business, take a moment to see, acknowledge, thank, and appreciate those around you. You may not feel like the most powerful person in the organization, but by merely seeing someone for what they do…that is superpower-level stuff.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Chattanooga Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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