Erick Lichte of the Chor Leoni Men’s Choir

Erick Lichte, Chor Leoni Men’s Choir | BCBusiness

Taking the reins from a revered leader is a tough job, made easier by a selfless predecessor

When Diane Loomer, the founder and artistic director of the Vancouver-based Chor Leoni Men’s Choir, passed away suddenly last December, it was left to 37-year-old choral director Erick Lichte to take over a grieving organization unaccustomed to anyone else steering the ship.

“My initial start time was supposed to be this September, so when this happened last December we had to, in a matter of days, look at each other and go, ‘Okay, now what do we do?’” says Lichte, now the choir’s artistic director.

It was a tumultuous transition made easier by the fact that Loomer had been upfront with the choir about her illness, says Lichte, hand-picking him as her successor, plucking the lauded young conductor from Portland, where he was leading several ensembles.

Loomer showed further leadership savvy by inviting Lichte to tour Europe with Chor Leoni last summer, while she was still conducting, so he could make connections with the group before she passed the baton.

What was your first leadership position?
Boy Scout patrol leader when I was 12 or 13.

Is leadership learned, or something you’re born with?
It’s 50/50. Some people have a confidence in their own vision of what needs to be done, but the other part is how you make that happen with other people—that’s the learned part.

How do you ensure your continued growth as a leader?
For me it’s going to other concerts, experiencing what my colleagues are doing, guest conducting and those kinds of things. I always come away having learned something about myself that I can incorporate.

How do you help ensure buy-in to your organization’s culture?
It’s about making sure the moment you hire someone, if they don’t have that buy-in or are having trouble finding it, you nip that in the bud because that can spread like a cancer.

What is the biggest challenge to corporate leaders today?
It’s fairly easy to know what we as an organization do and why we do it, but it’s so much harder to communicate that message. What technological medium do I need to do that? What are the new models? They seem to change every six months.

What qualities do you look for in up-and-coming leaders?
First and foremost I want somebody that is a good, moral individual. You can find somebody who can make you successful, but if they’re unscrupulous or mean to others, I don’t think it’s worth it.

“You can have two different kinds of leaders,” Lichte says. “For one kind of person it’s about them and their role with the organization, and the organization is there to prop them up and push them forward. The other type of person is there for the organization, doing their best work when they are making everything great. When you inherit something from the former type of person you’re going to have a lot of difficulties because the team they created around them was about that personality. Diane was very much the latter type of person. She was a gentle, blonde rock star who assembled a team that was all about the good of the music, the good of the organization and the good of the community.”

In leading Chor Leoni, Lichte plans to blend his own experiences with lessons learned from Loomer, whom he greatly admired. “One thing that was driven home for me with Diane’s passing is that she left us an immaculate house to live in. None of us are ever in our jobs forever. We either leave or we’re going to die. So we have to, as leaders, decide, do we want a legacy? Do I care enough about the things I’m working for that I want them to go on beyond me? That takes a big person to think that way, but it’s really the successful model.”

He adds that he hopes he’s leaving his choirs in Portland in the same way. “I want to be able to look those guys in the eye and say, ‘You’re going to have somebody really good. There will be change and it will be different, but stick with it.’”

As for how he plans to balance organizational traditions with change, Lichte says, “Diane created a season that is dependable but malleable, and that is actually a great business model. You always want to combine the comfortable and the familiar with the shocking and new. You want to create structures that give you that flexibility.”