Back Up

When I was a young child, I wanted to be a Supreme. Beyonce may indeed be Destiny’s Child, but I was more interested in The Miracles. Sure there was Diana and Smokey, but before they were American idols and icons, they had Supremes and Miracles.

The back up singers were us! I wanted to join them singing harmonies and vocals that complemented the lead singer’s melody. Back up singers were a pair or a group of fabulousness, rhythmically moving in sync, ooohing and aaaaahing, repeating key words and phrases, connecting the lead vocals to the rest of us.

There’s something interesting to me about The Supremes and The Miracles, beyond suggesting divine intervention in their lead singer’s voices. Surely they had to have terrific talent, but I think the groups that included the back up singers in the names of the groups, remind us of the importance of terrific talent beyond the front person. This is true in any organization–from families, institutions, agencies, companies, or any group. Harnessing excellence in every role makes the real difference.

We have a tendency to focus so much on individuals and leadership roles, often to the detriment of healthy organizations. Great leaders are great not only because of their vocals (what they say, and do), but because they have talent that supports their efforts. Too often, we forget to hone the skills for back up singing: a great voice; willingness to work in harmony; supplementing and accompanying the theme; learning the choreography for the production; complementing the lead vocalist, bringing the work to perfection.

Imagine if we gave employees, students, volunteers, care-givers and any non-leader who is charged with responsibilities, the expectation of being supreme or a miracle! Imagine if we sought out a work force comprised of stellar back up singers–using their well trained voices in concert (metaphorically speaking).

Now we have crews –not Supremes or Miracles, and without the expectation of significance and talent from those not in the spotlight, we not only lose excellence at all levels, but we mute important voices and diminish leading voices.

So many of our institutions have been crumbling from within, and without capable lead singers. Perhaps The Supremes and The Miracles were of their time. We don’t emphasize the back up singers very much today, but I still love being a back up singer (metaphorically now). There’s great importance and reward in generating support, and encouraging others to move with the tempo and sing along. Talented lead singing will be brought to excellence with talented back up singers. Start enrolling those supremes, and making some miracles.

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