What could the Military Wives Choir and Business Have in Common?

The answer to “What could they have in common…” is easy : Leadership, Engagement, Teamwork, Outstanding Performance and Sustainability … and you don’t even need to sing!

What do they have in common? Well that all depends…


The Background

Imagine the hustle and bustle of a military garrison prior to deployment to one of the most dangerous environments in the world; Helmand Province, Afghanistan where UK troops are part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) tasked with providing support to the Afghan Government in its fight against insurgents. The reality of that commitment meant that British service men and women were being killed and seriously injured during every 6-month tour of deployment.

Left back home to keep “business as usual” are the wives and partners of those deployed. They knew that some of them would more than likely lose their partners or have to deal with them if they suffered a life changing injury. The bleakness of the coming months, living with constant fear of the knock on the door bringing bad news, yet having to live a normal life for the sake of the children. The strain is immense.


The choirmaster

PageLines- Startinthesameplace.jpgThen onto the scene comes Gareth Malone, choirmaster. A slightly built man when compared with the robust build of the Royal Marine Commandos’ he now found himself amongst, yet with an energy that belies his statue.

Now Gareth had come to prominence with his BBC programme “The Choir”. He felt that the success from that could be replicated and took on the challenge to work with the wives and partners of the marines who were about to be deployed from the Royal Marine Base Chivenor. He was so driven he reached out and also included the ladies from the Plymouth base.

And his feelings proved right! This outstanding success culminating in the Military Wives Choir performing at the Remembrance Service held at the Royal Albert Hall where they bought the nation to tears with the song, ‘Wherever You Are’. A song written specially for them from extracts of correspondence between the choir and their spouses in Afghanistan.


The Challenge

Waving the Checkered Flag

Gareth’s passion for music and singing undoubtedly helped those wives and partners through their difficult time and beyond. He is undoubtedly flamboyant, expressive and sensitive. He is thoughtful and highly aware of the needs of others, and with a strong belief that singing bonds people, he entered Chivenor to meet the wives and partners. He gently explained to them his purpose of building a choir and his enthusiasm gradually overcome the ‘I can’t sing’ attitude of those present. He persuaded some to try singing in front of the group that for many was terrifying, yet they did it. He identified some of those ladies for his new choir. Others joined in later either from his charismatic presence or the noise and excitement generated by the regular choir rehearsals.

He led them gently from starting with songs they knew into a more challenging repertoire. He got the choir to sing in front of their partners, in a local shopping mall and at Sandhurst Military Academy. Confidence grew, they made mistakes and they persevered. At times they felt they could not do it yet with gentle encouragement from Gareth both as a group and at times as individuals they have became a national treasure and there are now about 24 military wives choirs from bases all over the country.

During a recent BBC programme Gareth said,

“It’s the biggest thing these ladies have ever done.”


So how was it achieved?

Could businesses use a similar approach to improve their products or service? (With the singing bit, replaced by the business purpose)


First – what did he actually do? Leadership & Engagement

Gareth’s passion, in this case for music and singing, is his personal driver. His belief that singing is beneficial to everyone, it brings people together and that we can all sing, albeit some better than others, sits behind a ‘can do’ attitude. With the Military Wives he had a very clear purpose, namely to give them something they could all do whilst at a low ebb that would benefit them individually, collectively and make their spouses feel very proud of them.

Next, he had to share that purpose, to give them a reason to take part and to give them a clear direction. He achieved this through his personal driver that inspired the wives into realising that through practice and perseverance not only could they sing but also that their singing would improve. He involved them by asking them questions, giving them choices so that they became engaged. They took on personal responsibility, which meant that not only did they practice, but also turned up for practice on time, even though on some occasions it was with their children. They practised individually and collectively and when required, Gareth provided that additional support needed at the time, together with praise for their effort.

Ultimately, not only did he empower them, he became an intricate part of the team that led to them all producing the song ‘Wherever you are’. A song that was made up of personal statements the wives and partners shared with their loved ones so that it had a huge emotional aspect that Gareth entwined into the finished song.

The moment the soloist sung the first line of the song at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2011 the nation knew that the Military Wives Choir had excelled all expectations. The choir sung with an emotional clarity that ebbed and flowed in perfect harmony and as the last note sounded, left the nation in tears.


How does Gareth’s approach compare with many businesses today?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t as much as it should. We could use another BBC programme as an example – The Apprentice. We all know it’s for Alan Sugarour entertainment and accept that we only see a snapshot of what really takes place.

However, imagine businesses where the staff are constantly verbally abused and threatened continually with being fired, where every member of the team is only out to feather their own nest and will do anything to put down their colleagues. Where most candidates appear to be deluded about their own abilities and what drives them is selfishness. Know any that fit that description?

Unfortunately, many of these features do still exist in organisations today. Command and control is still present in many businesses and positional power often dominates. Control is further extended through the use of systems and processes that cause people to conform to them instead of working within the real and dynamic context that the business is in.

change AnalysisImagine a competency profiling process that prevents people joining a choir until they have reached a standard set within the system. This is a complete antipathy to inspiring people to use their own natural abilities, all unique, to the best of that ability so that they become self-motived and take on personal responsibility.

The impact of over controlling is an uninspired and disengaged workforce and according to the Gallup survey of 2013, 83% of people at work in the UK fall into this disengaged group. It’s 87% globally!


How can we replicate Gareth’s approach in business?

What you need to do is simple, but it may be difficult for you to do it. 

Stop or reduce those personal behaviours together with those systems and processes that demand compliance and conformity unless they add value directly or indirectly to the business. Such controlling behaviours or systems are wasteful and costly in terms of time, effort and money and reduce or destroy personal commitment.

They create organisations where people function, do not think and are often treated by leaders as zombies. People lose their sense of purpose and develop ‘Can’t Do’ and ‘Won’t Do’ attitudes resulting in avoidance or blocking behaviours. None of this was or is in Gareth’s world.

Over-emphasis on systems and processes generates and supports rigid behaviours that focus on stabilisation rather than enables people to operate in the dynamic and often uncertain complexity of the real world.

We describe “Behavioural Waste”as

involving all forms of behaviour that can be usefully removed or reduced, which prevent us from achieving our purpose and which reduce our effectiveness or the effectiveness of other people.


Organisations need to replace this rigidity with Growth Behaviours that are the result of a ‘Can Do’ attitude that enables a person to operate in an increasingly complex and highly demanding world; to deliver the purpose of the organisation by translating context reality into creative and different solutions, and practical actions.

Gareth’s leadership inspires, engages and empowers. Under his leadership the performance was outstanding, more choirs have been created and it is sustainable.

Business Change - are you fit for the 21st CenturyWhat difference would it make if organisations and its leaders created a culture that operates this way?

Is it like that where you work?



There is always a choice, and as always it’s yours.

To find out more about how it can work for you email growth@mindfitltd.com 




  • Mindset – Carol Dweek
  • Self-efficacy – Albert Bandura
  • Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Learned Helplessness – Martin Seligman
  • Mind Fit for Success – Graham Williams



 A Leadership & Engagement article

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