Cliff Dochterman, Past RI President
Are the Conductor"
What kind of leadership will you give to the club presidents, secretaries,
and district committees in your district next year?
Google lists over 4 million entries on leadership. But I don’t
believe there is one description of the leadership of a Rotary district
governor. There are so many different styles of leadership. However,
your leadership job is unique because you are leading a group of
Rotary volunteers. What is the style of a successful governor?
A district governor won’t survive very long using the leadership
style of a top sergeant — no matter how much you try, those
club presidents will never line up for marching orders.
A district governor will never be effective
using the leadership skills of an animal trainer — whose tools
are a whip and a chair. You can never keep club presidents under
A district governor will never find much success
using the techniques of a football coach — yelling instructions
to players in a championship game.
The leadership skills of a successful district governor, working
with volunteer Rotarians, require special consideration and personal
skills. There is no chance for you to fire your volunteers and hire
a new group of club presidents.
Over the years, I have observed that some of the most effective
Rotary leaders are those who exhibit the leadership skills and temperament
of a symphony orchestra conductor. Just as your district leaders
and club presidents are composed of a wide variety of men and women
with unusual abilities, special interests, and many experiences
— a symphony orchestra is also composed of many distinct units,
unique individuals, with a variety of skills and abilities.
Over here is the orchestra’s string section, composed of violins
and cellos. I would compare them to those Rotarians who are important
to your district, but often rather high strung and frequently need
to be tuned in to the issues at hand since they carry the theme
for the year.
Over here our orchestra has the woodwind section — clarinets,
oboes, and bassoons, which have a wide range to cover in the musical
score. In Rotary the woodwinds might be the quiet members of your
leadership team, who are perfectly willing to take on the high and
low notes of your performance. But once in a while you may hear
a squeak or two from that section.
Over there is the orchestra’s brass section — the trumpets,
trombones, and tubas. In your district they are the Rotarians you
can always hear loud and clear. When they toot their horn, you know
they have an opinion — clearly expressed. And if it’s
the tuba guy, the sound may be just an occasional “oomph.”
In the back of our orchestra is the percussion section, with drums,
symbols, and all the bells and whistles. I suspect every Rotary
club and district has a percussion section — they beat the
drum for their pet projects or use a drum-roll to announce their
arrival. You can’t miss the percussion section in any club.
In every orchestra there are those who work behind the scenes —
the stagehands. They place the stage risers, set out the chairs,
and handle the lighting and sound effects. In your Rotary district
these are those faithful members whom you can always count on. They
are always ready, and seldom complain. They often serve as sergeants-at-arms
or aides for the RI president’s representatives.
Then there is the actual performance at the concert, which is the
end result of the hours of practice, endless rehearsals and the
thoughtful preparation. In your district, that is your district
conference. It is the showplace of the very best you have to offer.
It becomes the major production of your year.
And frequently there is another group attending the symphony —
the music critics. They always have an opinion or observations about
every performance. In Rotary these critics are frequently identified
as — past district governors.
Just as the symphony orchestra is made up of many different instruments
and players, you find the same differences, interests, and abilities
in the club leaders in your districts. Your job is the same as the
symphony maestro, who uses leadership skills to bring together the
strings and woodwinds and brass and percussion units into a symphony
of beautiful music.
How will you do it? What kind of leadership and management skills
will you need to bring together the Rotarians in your district to
create the concert you will direct during 2015-16?
Let’s look at some of the skills of
the symphony conductor:
1. Prepared. The conductor knows
the music being performed. We say he “knows the score.”
The conductor continues to learn and practices every day to be a
better leader. He or she is aware of all the notes, symbols, and
marks that bring out the best of each performer. Yes, the conductor
is prepared and prepares his musicians to be the best they can.
2. Listens. The maestro listens all the time. The conductor
hears the slightest tunes that are out of key. They listen to unique
combinations of sounds and seek the best. Yes, the conductor is
3. Shares. Symphony conductors are constantly sharing their
experiences and giving instruction based upon training and knowledge.
The music leader creates the tempo, the volume — and puts
personal feeling into the music. Yes, every conductor must be a
4. Encourages. The great symphony maestros encourage each
of the musicians and recognize the exceptional performances of each
musical section. He or she brings this group up and tones that section
down as they interpret the entire composition. At every performance,
the conductor may take a bow — but always recognizes the entire
orchestra and always gives tribute to the soloists. Yes, the successful
conductor encourages and recognizes all the players.
5. Develops. Every symphony musician is seated by levels
of performance, and the conductor is constantly developing the musicians
to move up to first chair. As you know, the first violin player
is the concertmaster and sits in the chair nearest to the conductor.
In each section the maestro is developing players to enhance their
musical talents and moving to higher levels of performance.
6. Performs. The final achievement of an orchestra is the
performance for the enjoyment of others.
All the diverse parts come together in a beautiful concert. There
is where the conductor’s skills are on public display. All
of the musicians, under the direction of the maestro, make the concert
their finest hour.
The interesting thing is that these six leadership skills of the
symphony conductor are almost identical to the leadership styles
of successful Rotary district governors.
The successful district governor is carefully prepared.
In your district, the governor is the one who is well aware of the
plans and goals of our Rotary International president. The governor
is well aware of the policies, bylaws, and customs of Rotary within
his or her district. The governor is prepared to give a year of
committed leadership to the district.
The successful district governor is an excellent listener.
Governors who do more listening than talking will usually be the
better leaders of their district. As you listen, you will become
aware of the strengths and weaknesses, which should be addressed.
It is amazing what you can learn when you just listen. The governor
who is aware of the issues within the clubs will always be better
prepared for effective action.
The successful district governor shares experiences and knowledge.
Most governors have experiences in service projects, club activities,
The Rotary Foundation, and youth programs that can be shared with
presidents and district committees. Throughout this week you have
had many discussions and picked up ideas that give you excellent
information to be shared with your district leaders. An effective
governor will share thoughtful and friendly advice with all of the
club and district workers.
A successful district governor gives encouragement and recognizes
Well-deserved recognition is one of the most effective forms of
motivation. A public word of appreciation or a short note of thanks
is a vital part of a governor’s leadership skills. Be generous
with your encouragement. Be sincere with your praise. And I assure
you that you will have the strongest team your district has ever
seen. Recognition is a public form of a governor’s thoughtfulness.
A successful district governor will develop new leaders to build
a stronger district for the future.
Each year new Rotarians need to grow and blossom into future leaders.
A district governor is in the ideal position to observe, discover,
and develop the future leaders of your district. So many Rotarians
have latent skills, unknown talents, hidden abilities — and
these must be nurtured and given opportunities to be used for the
Rotary of the future.
And finally, the effective district governor will be evaluated by
the final performance of his or her district.
It is the ultimate concert of achievements,
which are important. The kind of leadership you provide will be
publicly demonstrated at your district conference. The judging of
an orchestra’s performance is not the single notes of the
tuba player or the second violin — it is the evaluation of
the conductor’s ability to bring the parts together as seen
under the microscope of excellence. That is your district conference.
In the next few weeks, you will be training and rehearsing your
club presidents and district committee members to be ready for a
new performance on 1 July. You will talk about goals and plans for
the year ahead. You will have committees working on a district conference,
The Rotary Foundation, membership promotion, and other dynamic programs.
The amazing thing will be that on 1 July, each one of you will step
up to the music lectern, pick up the maestro’s baton —
and your symphony will begin.
(As Ravel’s “Bolero” begins to play, Cliff picks
up a baton and uses it as if conducting)
Do you hear that soloist? That is you beginning your visits to the
clubs of your district. The music in the background comes from your
committees. Then bring in the Interactors and Rotaractors. And over
here the Youth Exchange students are added into the theme.
Hear that background sound? It’s the district committee considering
Rotary Foundation grants. That quiet group over there is preparing
for the district conference. You feel the harmony as each group
performs its mission.
You are still making your club visits. Don’t overlook that
Foundation fundraiser. Bring up the tones of the public relations
committee. There is the melody of the RYLA group.
You are still making your club visits. The emails never stop —
on and on and on. The district conference planning is getting ready.
You continue the promotion for the Rotary International Convention
in Seoul. Your assistant governors give you more reports.
Your club visits are almost ended. You still prepare materials for
the district monthly newsletter. You are ready to introduce a vocational
team from a matched district. You look over to see if that new club
is prepared for its charter. Each section adds more to the musical
Hear those soft notes: It’s one of your club’s plans
and objectives, five months late; there is the Reach Out to Africa
report; don’t overlook that 10K run for PolioPlus; get in
touch with President Ravi’s representative to your district
You can feel that crescendo in all of the activities. The tempo
is picking up — more special visits; your spouse is telling
you to pack for the Korea convention; more committee meetings; notes
of appreciation; Paul Harris recognitions to be presented; district
conference details; and more coordination with the governor-elect
You can feel the pulse of the music in your entire body! The music
consumes every ounce of your energy. And then it comes to a beautiful
climax ….and your symphony is over.
Amid the applause, you take a bow but give the real recognition
to the entire orchestra. You acknowledge the soloists. And even
the orchestra is applauding for your leadership skills!
Then comes your greatest moment. You pass the baton to the governor-elect
to lead the next Symphony on the concert program.
That’s the cycle of Rotary. That is the task of leadership
of a Rotary district. You have brought all of the divergent parts
of your district committees and the club presidents into its greatest
performance — because you had the leadership skills of a superior
As the music still rings in the air you can say: “We did it!”
But your district will know that they had selected a super governor
as their leader!
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