Craig Hella Johnson | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Craig Hella Johnson

Background:  

Conspirare is a Grammy award-winning, internationally renowned choral ensemble based in Austin, Texas. It was formed in 1991, but did not begin to regularly perform until 1999. Conspirare creates concerts and recordings under the direction of Craig Hella Johnson.

The Mistake:

I was making things too much about me.

There’s an old mystical teaching phrase that says, “Your life is not about you.” That, for me, I think has been a powerful learning.

Starting out in my career, I had all this drive and ambition. I started this nonprofit and one needs all that energy and drive to ascend. It’s just a part of being young.

That attitude causes a great deal more stress and anxiety—so much more than what’s necessary. I was unintentionally giving off this subtle culture of separatism within the team, or at least that’s how it might have been perceived by others. It was almost like I was running things with the attitude of “it’s my territory and it needs to be protected against yours” as if there was this attempt to achieve or win something there’s only a finite amount of.

But I think this was really limiting the potential for collaboration and for really beneficial consultation. There were losses because of a limited perspective. These days, I have a lot of compassion for that younger Craig whose attitude likely came from fear and internal worry that one is not enough—that I needed to be able to accomplish and succeed. I realized those are not helpful motivators in the end.

Once I let go of my controlled agenda, and shifted from a mindset of control to support, I could see others become much more relaxed and able to express themselves more fully.

The Lesson:

Once I realized that not everything was necessarily “about me,” I could see our teams strengthened. With my internal shift, the team felt so much more included in our forward momentum and I could see more joy and delight in the work. I have found so much freedom and expansiveness in trying to live that way. Then at work, things are perceived as an open field.

Whatever competition remained was in the spirit of play once I realized this doesn’t have to ultimately be about me or my own success. My commitment came to be about the work itself without that attachment to me. It came to be about something larger than myself. That’s where the real radiating energy is in the work that we do.

For example, the old image of a conductor is a power source at the podium in a controlling position. That’s the kind of leadership we learned. But once I let go of my controlled agenda, and shifted from a mindset of control to support, I could see others become much more relaxed and able to express themselves more fully.

The singers were more willing to share ideas and more comfortable in general. There was a richness of intelligence and imagination that was suddenly available.

 

Follow Conspirare on Twitter at @ConspirareTweet.

Pictured is Craig Hella Johnson. | Photo by James Goulden. Used with permission from Conspirare. 

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