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What is the rhythm of your community?

Drum sound rises on air, its throb my heart. A voice inside says, "I know you are tired, but come. This is the way."

~ Rumi

As dawn rises over the capital city of Conakry, Guinea, the first sound drifting across the rooftops, over the compound walls and above your bed, is the call to prayer of the Iman at the mosque. His chants set off the dogs that signal the new day from one neighborhood to another. Soon the chickens peck, peck, peck at the hard brown clay, scrapping for their breakfast. By 6 a.m. the sound of women sweeping their front yards of the fallen mango leaves, provides a background to the morning's greetings, "Isoma," "Isoma," "Tenamesee Tenaseeta," tossed back and forth among neighbors and rising family members. This is the rhythm of Conakry, calling for a new day.

What is the rhythm of your community? How do the decisions that you make as a leader take into account the people and needs of the many communities that make up your city? How does your authentic leadership add to your city's rhythm?

Consider the neighborhoods or communities that make up your city. How do the sounds or voices of these neighborhoods and communities differ? What are the particular needs of each neighborhood? Consider the flow and vibrancy of these communities. Notice their day-to-day cycles and what makes them unique. How does their voice add to your city? What sounds would be missing without their presence?

During the Leadership Summit in Charlotte, N.C., earlier this month, traditional West African music was used as a metaphor to explore the rhythm of our cities and the role leaders play.

Ballet Warraba of Asheville, N.C., played and danced Yankadi, a celebratory rhythm from Guinea; where the drums, bells, dance and song each played a significant part in creating one unifying rhythm.

Summit participants watched, listened and challenged themselves by drumming, dancing and singing to discover an organized structure that balances and connects each piece of the rhythm.

In a traditional celebration, the leadership may shift among different people, and the group responds accordingly. At times the dancer will lead, at times the singer, but when the music is hot, the jembe drummer becomes the central figure.

The drummer gives the musicians, the dancers and the community signals for when to dance, when to stop, when to change, when to speed up and when to sing. As the leader, the jembe drummer remains aware of the entire situation and acts accordingly. When the excitement wanes, the leader works to change the music; if a guest comes, the leader begins a song to honor the guest; if the dancers are tired, the leader slows the music; and if the rhythm is shaky, the jembe drummer works to bring everyone back together.

In Guinea, the lead drummer also knows when not to play. This creates space and allows other voices to be heard. This conscientious balance of roles, facilitated by all of the leaders, gives a community the celebration it needs.

In your city, you are called to lead as the elected official. So how do you help the polyrhythmic patterns of your various communities work together to create the rhythm of your city? You choose to know yourself, you choose to be your authentic self, and you choose to model for others, that each person and each community has a unique voice to contribute.

W. Edward Deming suggests, "Nothing happens without personal transformation." As leaders, we are invited, perhaps charged, to transform ourselves as we transform our communities with reality, vision, courage and ethics. As authentic leaders, we are more able to recognize the authenticity of realities other than our own. We see the differences as contributions.

Being from different cultures, we recognize the genuine spirit of another culture. We can hear the various economic, social, cultural and religious patterns as a part of the polyrhythm of our city.

Leading from our authentic selves inspires others to operate from that place too, and gives long-lasting stability and impact to our relationships, policies and projects.

Summit participants, with shoes and ties off, and a jembe drum beneath the hands, found a new voice and combined with others to create the rhythms of new community.

At the end of the first session, summit participants joined Ballet Warraba in celebration and community, rather than simply watching Ballet Warraba perform.

This is the ultimate experience in community: people from different neighborhoods working together with leaders; everyone contributing voice, energy, experience and lifestyle in a way that is most rewarding for the whole city; everyone living and working together to answer the question, "What is the rhythm of your city?"

Kathleen Moloney-Tarr is president of Leadership Dynamics, a leadership-consulting firm located in Charlotte, N.C. providing services to corporate, education, government and not-for-profit organizations since 1990. Through her work with organizations and individuals, she facilitates leadership development, clear focus on mission and core beliefs, improved systems and structures, improved communication and expanded trust and commitment.

Tiani Tarr graduated from Davidson College (N.C.) in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in studio art. Since 1997, Tiani has traveled to Guinea, West Africa to study Guinean music and dance with the best and most ancient artists of The Republic of Guinea.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities Leadership Summit
Author:Moloney-Tarr, Kathleen; Tarr, Tiani
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U5NC
Date:Sep 30, 2002
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