How to be the Best Manager, Trainer and Coach to Your Employees: Tips from...Whoopi Goldberg?

Jodi Beuder
September 10, 2013 — 1,733 views  
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Well, maybe not directly from Whoopi Goldberg, but from her character Sister Mary Clarence in the film “Sister Act.” I recently saw this movie on television; and, having never seen it previously (it came out in theaters in 1992), was delighted to find it ended up being surprisingly entertaining and inspiring. I was most inspired by a scene where Whoopi’s character, a woman sent into witness protection and placed in a convent in disguise as a nun, ends up directing the convent choir. Her leadership is masterful, respectful, thoughtful and courageous. All characteristics we all hope our managers have; all characteristics we should want to reflect in our own management style. Here is how Sister Mary Clarence brings a disorganized, off-pitch choir together to become a victorious, extraordinary chorale team:

She Handles Her New Manager Status with Style and Integrity

First, Sister Mary Clarence walks to the podium tentatively, but summons the confidence and tells herself: “I can do this.” And instead of making excuses, or giving a speech about her background, she dives right in. In taking over, Sister Mary Clarence can sense some resentment from the previous choir director, Sister Mary Lazarus. Without pushing her aside, Mary Clarence as the new leader incorporates what Mary Lazarus already taught the group. She first pays a compliment: “You’re somebody who’s into hard work and discipline, right?” By identifying with Mary Lazarus and talking to her with respect and regard instead of putting out a negative, egocentric vibe, the two choir leaders work together and agree that choir practice should be daily if they were going to succeed. Asking others for their input is always a great way to motivate team members.   

She Arranges the Team by Capabilities/Departments

Mary Clarence starts working by getting the choir to group together by their voice range: basses, altos, and sopranos. Next, she instructed the choir, now in their new spots, to work together in their ranges and sing a note together. Instead of searching for the best singers, or holding an audition, Sister Mary Clarence takes her team for what it is and assesses what she has to work with. No one is going to be singled out for her exceptional skill, and no one is going to be kicked out for not being very good. She is going to help them work together.

She Inspires Individual Contribution

With the newly assembled choir, Sister Mary Clarence now has to work with a few flaws. Before doing so, she gives the choir gals kudos for their first attempt and then, with kindness and patience, reaches out to the singers who need a bit of assistance. She uses positive reinforcement and positive language to ask for adjustments.  

She Reviews the Team's Current Skill a Team

Another challenge for Sister Mary Clarence was the piano player, who has a little bit of a hearing problem. Instead of taking over for the piano player, or expressing frustration for having to ask twice to begin, Sister Mary Clarence figures out how to communicate with the pianist and finds a way to use humor to encourage her. She says, “You must listen to each other, if you’re going to be a group.” That quote can be applied to any team in any environment, from a customer service call center to a C-level management team. It doesn’t just take working together; it takes listening, interacting, and engaging with fellow employees to be a successful team.  

She Encourages Practice

Sister Mary Clarence knew that the choir must practice if they want to improve. Teams that practice the work they’ve learned can only improve. And with all that practice, at their first official performance during Mass the next Sunday, Sister Mary Clarence encourages smiles, confidence, and teamwork. What comes out is an inspiring piece of music that brought people in the church who heard the singing from the streets. Great management leads to great teamwork. Great teamwork leads to great success and a great following. 

Get Inspired by the Most Surprising Leadership Example: a Nun in Disguise

You can watch this inspiring scene here. While the video is a lengthy 13 ½ minutes, if you skip to 3:33 you will see the management leadership take action. (Stay for the entire video, though, because it is fun and full of energy!)

Jodi Beuder

Impact Learning Systems

With over 17 years in Marketing Executive roles, Jodi has dedicated her career to assisting companies grow their brand presence and sales, and most importantly, their customer retention and satisfaction.