Lead With a Drunk Tongue


It’s pretty hard to look at our economic, cultural, and political world and not feel the strain. And, if you read this on Monday, you might be thinking, “okay, I’ll read a sentence or two quickly, and see if this one’s worth reading.” (I’d  probably do that.) After all, the job is calling. You’ve got to slash through the jungle of work; be more productive than last week, than the competition, than your coworkers. We’re little centers of strain so often.  But . . . . maybe not.

I started voice lessons with Linda Abar last week, and she had me open my mouth, drape the front of my tongue on top of my bottom lip, and talk with my tongue like that. Try it (when no one’s looking). Yep, you sound like you’re drunk. But notice what happens to your jaw: it can’t clench. It must relax. Linda explained that so much of great singing is learning how you strain, and how not to strain. In great singing she told me, the air – yes the emptiness to begin with – needs to be able to move easily, through lungs, along vocal chords, through the throat, nose, mouth. What a marvelous image: Great singing comes from relaxing and be more open.

As I stood there with my jaw loosely bobbing, I couldn’t help but think of Rory McIlroy, the 21-year old who had the Masters golf championship right in his grasp last week, until that grasp seemed to tighten about five notches too many. Where he had been loose for the first three days of the tournament, he was suddenly tight. His final-day collapse was painful to watch. My singing teacher who knows nothing of golf could appreciate that he “choked.”

Ever see – or worse, have – a boss who’s wound too tight, up tight, a total tight -ss? Ever seen – or worse, been – a parent who’s over-guiding, anticipating failure, chronically thinking things aren’t working, making those faces of disapproval before the kid even has a chance to explain?  I’ve had, seen, and been all of these too-tight grippers.  Have you?

I suspect fear is the real driver when we clench the steering wheel of leadership.

The best leaders I have ever worked for and witnessed breathed trust.  Jennifer would add “trust but verify.”  Sure, we know there’s a place for the latter.  But not before the employee has even left the room; not before the adolescent has been able to try to express their point of view (look how we make them clench up when we’re too up tight).  At a deeper level, the best leaders know that it’s really not about control, or that much of the control is self-control, in order to let things flow. In our chaotic times, on tough Mondays, so many of our cultural influences scream: “Grab a hold. Tighten up. Tie it down.” So, here’s just one little voice that says: When you feel the impulse to tighten the grip, why not drape your tongue over your bottom lip and see what happens to your jaw.  And only then:

Lead with your best self,


  • Wonderful imagery! Our son is a vocal (and viola) student at Hope College, and his professor uses the phrase, and provides exercises to, allow him to “sing without tension.” You’re absolutely right – if only we could live our lives without tension. To quote a great Danish theologian, we should be encouraged (and encourage our up and coming leaders) to “take the leap of faith!” Keep up the creative ways of challenging us all to do just that, Dan!

  • This was a great Monday morning reminder on a creative way of looking at leadership. I took a voice workshop in Stratford that was for improving your presentation skills. It was so helpful to me and made me understand the direct connection between your voice and your entire way of relating to the world around you. Thank you Dan!

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