A long time ago – thankfully before the age of Youtube and social media – I used to do a bit of music; there was a very brief band with a couple of friends. I remember a more skilled musician than myself once saying that he thought you could cope with most things in music except a bad drummer. I was fortunate to work with 2 very good drummers; they just drummed and you didn’t really notice. Drummers – along with bass players - are the engine room of any band. Whilst all eyes are on the singer and the lead guitarist supplies their fancy bits, the drummer and the bassist just play on. This doesn't stop the smug comments of others. 'How do you know there’s a drummer at the door?’ asks the joke. ‘Doesn’t know when to come in...' Drumming is easy, claims one musician who has never played drums – you just count to 4 and hit things. ‘How hard can playing the bass be?’ asked a fellow musician, ‘it’s 4 strings and 2 fingers…’
Yet I'm not really thinking about music. I’m thinking about schools and colleges I’ve worked in, the educational bodies I’ve been involved with, other workplaces, churches and voluntary organisations. They are a lot like bands in terms of the roles that need playing. There are the singers who necessarily lead and carry the attention; the lead guitarists with their skilled solos and there are bassists and drummers.
Drummers (and bassists) are the ones who carry the rhythm of the organization, they guard the culture, they put in a shift day in day out regardless of whether anyone is watching… and yet frequently they find themselves the butt of the jokes. If you are a leader it may be worth asking yourselves who are the drummers in your organisation? One senior manager I had the privilege of working for talked about wanting every teacher in their area to give a solidly good 7/10 day in and day out, rather than 9/10 when observed and 4/10 when they thought no one was watching. In doing this, they are laying down the beat, setting the time to which the organisation can march. So exactly who are the drummers in your organisation?
It is easy from the outside to criticize the drummers particularly if you are not a drummer. Can we spot good drummers from bad drummers? It takes time and we have to be careful not to rush to judgement. In some ways drummers are the very opposite of the lead guitarists who, sulking behind the singer for much of the song, suddenly come alive when the spotlight hits them for their solo. These are the teachers who get outstanding on observations but stick on the video for the rest of the week. They are that Assistant Head who is only interested in driving through their own initiatives (is it the 5th one this week?) and building their own kingdom – one which does not quite fit coherently into the organizational whole. They are the worshipper whose participation in the life of a church depends upon whether the minister is likely to notice. The drummers have seen all this before and they will see it again. And ultimately it is what the drummer does that matters most
So if you are one of the drummers; then to you, we would say sorry and thank you. Thank you for all you do whether we notice or not. Hopefully we will get better at noticing and expressing our appreciation. When we do express our appreciation you will of course just shrug and say that your are 'just doing your job.' But there's no 'just' about this; you really are the glue that holds it all together. And we are sorry; sorry that so often we dismiss your teaching methods as old fashioned or that we roll our eyes at the way you approach a certain task. Sorry that you don't get your moment in the centrestage because something more exciting appears to be going on - there's amplifiers and pedals screeching sounds and everything...
So do look after your drummers and the music your organisation makes will probably be fine. Spend time with them asking them what the barriers are – what is making it difficult to keep time? How can we make it easier for you to deliver the essential beats? Thank them for what they do. Because if they leave and you get a bad drummer or there's just a silence where the drums used to be – you and others really will begin to notice, but by then it will be too late.