Sing Your Thanksgiving


For every hundred people reading this column today, I’d bet that 99 have an emotional response, if asked, “How do you feel about singing, and in particular about someone hearing your singing?”  Don’t quit on me, now.  This IS about leadership.

You see, singing and leadership share the reality and the metaphor of “voice.”  And our voice is so personal, vulnerable, precious, sometimes unheard, judged or silenced.

Both song and leadership feast on both lyrics and music; both on explicit meaning as well as the heart, soul, breath, and emotion that can course through a singer’s lyric, or a leader’s vision.

And, here’s the big part:  leadership and singing are profoundly and mysteriously interactive.

I sang in a recital yesterday.  Scarlett, my gifted teacher has been “receiving” my songs in practice for weeks.  On Friday at my lesson, she read back to me the lyric of the wonderful Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs) song I had chosen, These Are Days.  I have loved it and had practiced it often, but for some reason – in her recitation – I really “got” the song.  Having given it back to me, she encouraged me to give it fully away on Sunday. And when I did, the song seemed luxuriously long. It felt like 10 minutes, though it’s a two and half minute piece.  I think I saw every . . . face . . . in . . . the . . . audience of 70 or so. And many were not just receiving my offering but were palpably returning something. Much like Scarlett gave my song back to me, only this time without even words. Their attention carried my song back.

Ronnie Heifetz says that “attention is the currency of leadership.”  Maybe it’s the currency of performance.  Maybe, the currency of life and love.  Maybe by currency he means electricity, power, more than he means money?

I invite you to sing anew the old song of Thanks Giving.  Connect it anew to what they call your heart “strings.”  Pluck those chords and see if others’ don’t resonate. And be the audience to others’ songs of thanks, that their sound might come from a deeper part of them and touch a deeper part of you.

If it’s a noisy Thanksgiving house, well, just see.  As did my lovely audience whose attentive eyes brought forth a good song from me.

Thank you so much for the attention you offer in letting me sing my leadership song each Monday morning.

Sing with your best self,


P.S.  Here’s a link to George Winston’s “Thanksgiving,” a lovely song that will take you to a perfect autumn evening.


  • Coming from an American-Irish family (and yes, I like to flip the compound) where you often had to sing for supper… I understand the “currency” of performance and leadership. Those who have both can become very powerful people. Without love and humility they can even become dangerous. I think that singing the new/old song of Thanks and Giving is great place to start on the road to humility… At least I hope it’s good place to start. As the good Lord knows, I need to travel more on that road:)

    Dan– Last week’s comment on integrity has been on my mind as Thanksgiving and the Holiday season approaches. The latin root for integrity is “whole”, thank you for that nugget. It paints a beautiful picture of what we all strive to be… our “whole”, true, and best selves.

    And a Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

  • Wonderful Thanksgiving message, Dan. Thanks. And, Happy Thanksgiving to you, Jennifer, and your family.

    I agree with the writer above about “integrity,” and the whole self – the authenic self.

    Best wishes

  • Thank you, Dan. Inspiring and timely for me since I have been invited to be the “lead singer” in a small group at a couple of public performances. Scary for me since I do not have a trained voice. While I have a lot to be humble about when it comes to singing, I think I was invited because music moves me and I let that show when I’m singing. I love the songs! They’re therapeutic for me. I can relax and enjoy them, always hoping that others will help me find the right note, and drown out my voice. Perhaps my enjoyment of the song comes across to others, giving them permission to enjoy the singing of it, too, whether they have perfect pitch or not. Together, it’s group therapy for all of us.

    Currency = medium of exchange. The performer attends to the song and the audience attends to the meaning (where it works out well), not to whether the performer breathed in the right places, or such technical details (that can be so detrimental to the performer’s ability to convey the meaning and feel of a song)…or so I believe!

    As for leaders, a leader must attend to the input of his / her direct reports. Where they do, the subordinates are bound to attend to the leader.

  • Dan, I love how you tie your experience as a singer to the experience of being a leader. Your singing yesterday seemed to come from a place of sincere authenticity, which is what I think makes any singer’s song the most compelling and memorable.

    We singers must always focus on communicating the intention of the lyric, rather than impressing the audience with our “style.” The song is the wine and the singer is merely the decanter. A singer wants the listener to enjoy and appreciate the wine more than the vessel from which it came. Only when the song is “not about you” will your listener have the freedom to connect to his or her own experience and be moved by a it.

    Wonderful performance yesterday. Have a beautiful Thanksgiving, my friend!

    • Scarlett,
      You have proven my point. If you take your second paragraph and insert “leader” where you have written “singer,” you have the core — the humility that Joe Gough wrote about above!

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