Are you my Fearless Leader?

Chris JonesThere are at least a few different categories of bluegrass band leader personalities. All have their good and bad points. There can be a wide range too, from the Benito Mussolini school of management, to the style of the touchy-feely “team coordinator” of a local food co-op.

Are you the leader of a band but are not really sure what kind of leader you are? The fact that you’re unsure at all may be the first sign that you’ve already eliminated yourself from the fascist dictator category. They’re usually too sure of themselves to have any questions about who they are. The only question left in that case is, “You got a problem with that?”

Still, it’s possible to lapse gradually into a dictator role without realizing it. On the flip side, you may be less assertive as a leader than you think you are and are actually letting the band and every other part of the business run you.

I’ve prepared a simple quiz, with answers below, telling you what category you best fit into. There are no winners or losers, though you could argue that most bluegrass band leaders except those in the dictator category have already lost (money and time, anyway).

In these matters of bluegrass professional etiquette and ethics, which of the following best describes what you would do:

Your mandolin player has announced his intention to leave your band to join a competitor. In response, you . . .

A – Thank him/her for doing a good job, compliment the new employer, offer congratulations and a little extra money to ease the transition.

B – Pretend you didn’t hear it and change the subject, forcing a more awkward conversation later

C – After sighing audibly, say you understand, then work in some cryptic comment about the band leader who stole your musician away, suggesting there may be something darkly sinister about him/her. Finish by saying “I’m glad I was able to help your career” (the “you ungrateful wretch” is only implied).

D – Don’t say anything at all, but stare awkwardly at the musician for a full two minutes, then suddenly bang your fist on the table, shout obscenities and try to replace him/her before your next show (which is in 15 minutes).

You’ve just been paid for your services at a bluegrass festival and find that you’re $100 short. You . . .

A – Decide that it’s not worth ruffling any feathers about, in case it decreases your chances of being booked back next year. You eat the $100, but pay your band exactly the same amount originally agreed on. You suspect this may be your fault, somehow.

B – You decide it’s easier to short change each band member $20, hoping they won’t notice, thus avoiding a confrontation with the promoter.

C – You decide not to try to get the amount you’re owed from the promoter, while making it clear to him/her that the mistake was made, hoping that the resulting guilt feelings will increase your chances of getting booked back at a higher rate.

D – You send your largest and toughest-looking band member into the promoter’s office to get the money for you, instructing him to say that you’re “kind of upset about it.” You hang around just outside the door, listening and enjoying every minute.

You’re working a club, and the owner offers you a modest bonus to play an extra set. You . . .

A – Meet with your band members to see if they feel good about playing overtime, making it clear that they have no obligation to do so. If they’re willing, you play 15 minutes longer than requested, then pay all the money to your band, keeping none for yourself.

B – You fake a cough or tendinitis flare-up, or both, to avoid doing the set at all.

C – You present the proposition to your band members, offering them to split up part of the tip money. You point out to them that previous band members were grateful just to get their regular pay, but you don’t mind sharing the wealth this time, if they insist.

D – You make the band play the set and pocket all the money. That was easy.

Answer key:

If you answered mostly A, you’re a great person to play for (and take advantage of), but you may just be too nice for this sometimes tough business. The food co-op is missing your loving guidance.

If you answered mostly B, you like to have things your way, but you’re non-confrontational. You avoid difficult phone calls, sometimes for years. You usually managed in your life to get love interests to break up with you, rather than the other way around. The same holds for band members: you don’t fire them; you just subtly wear them down until they quit.

If you answered mostly C, you’re a master of the passive aggressive strategy, which often works very well. Your band members don’t like you much, but they’re not really sure why.

If you answered mostly D, your heroes are Augusto Pinochet, Vladimir Putin, and that newspaper editor from Spiderman. You’re not the most popular boss, but you can sometimes manage to hold on to some band members for a while (three months) through fear and intimidation. On the other hand, you run a tight ship, everybody knows their part, and no one’s ever late to a show, including you. Unless you just want to be. Yeah, make ‘em wait!