What we believe when it comes to developing student leadership:
What Do YOU Believe?
by Fran Kick
“A student leadership curriculum that is integrated into an organization’s infrastructure can have a direct, positive impact on that organization’s ability to successfully plan, practice, process and perform.” – Kevin Ford, Band Director for The Leadership Conservatory for the Arts at Tarpon Springs High School, Florida. Florida Music Director, August 2010.
Having worked with Bands of America/Orchestra America/ Music for All over the past two decades, I share in their passion and mission to develop student leadership rather than just let student leaders “rise to the top.” Reaching out to the best-of-the-best in your program and inspiring them to lead is one thing. Helping all your students simultaneously be an example and a peer teacher for others is quite another thing.
In the course of creating the various leadership experiences—both for the leadership weekend and the weeklong summer symposium— everyone involved has come to believe and reinforce a number of approaches that collectively contribute to developing the leadership capacity in students. Here is what we believe when it comes to developing positive student leadership:
Leadership isn’t about a title. While many people will say that “leadership isn’t about a title or a position,” too many times it’s selected students who have titles or positions that end up going to “leadership programs.” This program strives to do something different. We offer all students an opportunity to learn more about leadership.
Anyone who is willing to pay attention, respond appropriately and get involved in what’s going on has the potential to positively lead others. Every day we see examples of too many people not paying attention, or not responding appropriately. The world and our future will challenge everyone to engage in what’s going on around us many times over. Whether you’re a leader, a participant, or someone who “sees something” that needs to be done, acting on that responsibility is the key to building a caring community, school, organization, family or company. Many might prefer to stand back and abdicate their responsibility, giving up the opportunity to make a difference. Perhaps even whining, griping, complaining and blaming a given situation on others. Think of all the people you know who do just that! Helping students see that they have the ability to create a response–and therefore the responsibility to make things happen in our world–might be one of the most important lessons we share and active examples we set.
“Making things happen” is better than “watching things happen” or “wondering what’s happening.” Everyone has a choice–based on how well they pay attention–to contribute, criticize, or even ignore what’s happening around them in the world. While everyone can’t do everything that needs to be done, we can all do something wherever we are in life to make a positive difference.
Collaboration and cooperation always wins over competition and criticism. The arts in general can be a pretty competitive environment since performance level comparisons abound. Both individually and collectively we sometimes get sucked into an I’m-better-than-you or we’re-not-as-good-as-them mentality. While some of the National and Regional events Music for All sponsors and creates are competitive, the truth of the matter is that ideally these serve as celebrations–acknowledging achievement, highlighting excellence, and showcasing improvement. The “competitions” simply serve as an excuse to come together and share “what we do and how we do it.”
Actions speak louder than words. That’s why leading by example drives so much of what we do. After all, you can’t lead others until you lead yourself. Team SWAG—a group of dedicated volunteer directors, parents, college students and alumni—serves as the finest living example of servant leadership on the planet. You’ll see them at many of the Music for All events making things happen. They selflessly give their time without much fanfare or attention so that things just happen—almost magically many times.
Another great example of actions speaking louder than words, while demonstrating collaboration and cooperation, is the College Music Education Major Championship Semi-finals events held each year at the DCI World Championships in August and the Bands of America Grand Nationals in November. All three organizations—DCI, NAfME and Music for All—know that if we expect students, parents, teachers, schools and communities to work together, organizations need to work together as well. These one-day events, which are free for any full-time college student currently majoring in music education (undergraduate or graduate level), brings three of the nation’s largest music education organizations together—alongside with their various sponsors and partners, reaching future music educators with a message and a method that might inspire them to professionally pay attention to what is possible in today’s marching music education world.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi
Leadership is about attitude, behaviors and skills. It’s about helping students see that success in leadership, and ultimately in life, comes from working hard, getting better at what you do, and having fun in the process. Aristotle described this joy experienced during the pursuit of achieving excellence and called it “eudaimonia.” Maslow called it “self-actualization.” Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced CHICK-sent-me-high) calls it the optimal experience of “flow,” and I’d call it KICKin’ IT IN!
“Learning to enjoy the intrinsic rewards of hard work is essential to successful development.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The more you put into it, the more you get out of it. Some consider this the law of reciprocity; that you get what you give; as ye sow, so shall ye reap; that what you plant, is what you get. Call it cliché or karma, the world does tend to reflect back to you what you send out to it. This cycle of cause and effect reinforces that Golden Rule to do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
We believe in active learning by presenting lessons within the context of an experience to bring to life the leadership content students need to succeed. That’s why there’s less sitting and listening to lectures and more moving and involvement via large and small group experiential, teambuilding and problem-solving initiatives. It’s illustrating and bringing to life the leadership lessons within our program so that students can bring to life and illustrate the leadership lessons in your program. It’s learning by doing with pragmatic, immediately applicable, people-skill-building attitudes and approaches that students can then bring back within their organizations to improve performance.
Student leadership development needs to be developmentally appropriate for students. While that might seem like common sense to anyone in education, you’d be surprised how many student leadership programs are simply corporate leadership programs “watered down for kids.” Same messages and methods inappropriately adapted for student groups. There might be some serious developmental considerations to this. If you don’t believe me, check out the way elementary school student councils too many times become more about “the election” than learning about “the service of leadership.”
We believe in a constructive servant leadership approach. Servant leaders achieve results by giving constructive attention and care to the needs of those they serve vs. just themselves. They’re more about We/Us than I/Me. Seems like a contrarian concept given our current culture that continuously craves more and more of the ego-gratifying, attentionseeking, self-aggrandizing, 15-minutes of fame, I’ve-got-more-friends-than-you, Facebookfrenzy, status-updating, Twitter-text-messaging mania. And admittedly, the status-oriented, command-and-control, power-centered authoritarian leadership style does have its place. But when it comes to developing student leadership, we believe it’s time for more servant leaders who are seen as humble stewards of their organization–leaving a lasting legacy in the younger students they teach.
“Intrinsic motivation” has greater impact and is better at maintaining meaningful change than “extrinsic motivation.” In other words: self-motivation over the long run is much better than manipulation. Sure you can carrot-and-stick your kids to do what you want them to do. But ultimately, you’re putting more emphasis on the external reward vs. the internal satisfaction of a job well done. Plus, you’re setting yourself up to always have to tell students what to do and when to do it. Students will start to see more value in what they get for doing something, rather than enjoy the process of doing.
Leadership wisdom is created when you stop and reflect. Which is why every leadership experience, activity and initiative is followed by time to debrief and think about what was experienced, what was learned, and how that lesson can be applied in future and/ or different situations. Helping students “stop their world” to reflect, think and process “what they’re doing” as well as “how they’re doing” is an important aspect to our leadership development approach. Too many times in our always-on, 24/7, over-scheduled world, students don’t take the time to slow down, think it through and decide what to do. Being able to slow down, self-assess, take corrective action and even take a time out can bring a bit of saneness in our seemingly insane world.
The leaders of tomorrow are in the bands and orchestras of America today. We all know there’s something about music that opens up the creative mind. This combined with the leadership experiences music organizations offer creates a huge developmental influence impacting students well beyond their high school years.
In a multi-year, multi-university study of leadership involving over 50,000 college students from 52 different campuses, researchers found that pre-college experiences “predicted most of the variance in college leadership outcomes.”1
That kind of pre-college influence demands that we intentionally consider the kind of influence we have on a student’s leadership identity development. Do we just pick leaders and expect them to lead? Are previous student leaders leaving a positive legacy? What kind of example are we setting with what we do vs. what we believe? Are we “walking the talk” when it comes to preparing, nurturing and growing more students into student leaders, or do we artificially limit it to one or two students per section?
What do YOU believe? Now it’s your turn to share what you believe student leadership development needs to be. Click "Read more" to share your thoughts in the comments box about how student leaders need to be better prepared to help make things happen. If we select your comments to post online, as a “thank you for sharing,” we’ll make sure you receive a PDF discussion starter guide–based on this article– that you can use with your students.
1 Dugan, J.P., & Komives, S.R. (2007). Developing leadership capacity in college students: Findings from a national study. A Report from the Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs. Fran Kick has been KICKin’ IT IN with Music for All since 1990 as both a speaker and clinician for students and directors.