Leadership

Learning the rhythm of following the Good Shepherd and being sent out as servant leaders to form disciples.

I have never enjoyed drum solos. That statement probably sounds strange from someone who has been playing drums almost 40 years, but I have never connected with them. I generally go to the concession stand or talk to my friends during a drum solo. They are usually ego-driven displays of speed and agility, often with gimmicks like playing upside down or in flames, rather than real musicianship. I would much rather hear a guitar, piano, horn, or a vocalist featured than a drummer. My dislike for solos is not that they lack creativity, talent, or imagination. I simply prefer hearing a great drummer playing “in the pocket.” Drummers talk about “playing in the pocket” to describe playing in the groove with a steady beat and a feel for the rhythm. If a drummer is in the pocket, the band coalesces around the beat while the other instruments and the singer are freed to shine.

A drummer’s job is to listen and to keep the band together. During a song, the drummer leads from behind, providing the band’s tempo and direction. Most people think the lead singer or the lead guitarist is the leader of the band. That assumption is generally true as far as personality is concerned, but when a band is playing, the drummer is the one guiding the group through transitions and holding it all together. Lead singers and guitar, piano, and horn players all affect the feel and sound, but none of them have the ability to create the groove like a drummer. A great guitar solo is memorable, but if the drummer does not keep time or plays with the wrong dynamic or feel, then the solo will be memorable for the wrong reasons. Great bands have great drummers. Bob Dylan could get away with not having vocal chops, mostly because of his lyrics, but if Levon Helms, the drummer for The Band, did not hold a beat, no one would have listened.

I am not one to generally enjoy being in the background. As a trial lawyer, I love being in the spotlight, but over the last five to ten years, I have begun to realize that leadership, especially of the staff at my firm, is more than being out front. Jesus often spoke about leading by service. He says that as the Great Shepherd, he knows his flock and his flock knows him. His flock listens to him, and he lays down his life for them. We base our faith on the amazing gift of Jesus laying down his life–the ultimate act of service. As I read the passage about the Great Shepherd, I am also struck by how he connects with us. In leading his sheep, Jesus knows his flock and allows them to know him. He says his flock listens to him, and I believe that he listens to us also. To successfully lead, he loves us. He takes the time to know his people, and he connects with us. We know he loves us enough to lay down his life for us, and then he does. Serving others is leadership and requires more listening than speaking.

Until recently, I had never really thought about why I dislike drum solos. Many drum solos are very technical and require a lot of skill. A lot of thought and planning goes into them. It takes a lot of work to put on that showcase of ego. However, as I play more and more, I realize that the real art of playing in a band, for a drummer, is in listening and taking the time to connect. For a drummer, there is no better feeling than playing in the pocket. There is leadership in not being at the front. At its core, the foundation of leading is serving and setting aside ego. Jesus is less concerned with the reward of tending the flock than He is with His relationship and love for his flock. Just as if members of a band listen to each other, they play as one, Jesus said that His sheep will listen to him and be one flock.. Maybe He meant they should find joy in the pocket. He never mentioned anything about solos.

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Eric Stevenson

Eric Stevenson is the oldest of five kids and grew up fishing and listening to his grandfathers’ stories. He’s a Sewanee graduate and a lifelong Episcopalian. These days, he can be found at the courthouse, his son or daughter’s ballgames, or playing music, but not necessarily in that order. His wife Carrie saved him from a lifetime of bachelorhood 20 years ago.

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