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Music Directors Have Important Leadership Role in High Schools

By Peter Markes on January 12, 2015 hst

High school music directors have an inherent opportunity to teach incredibly valuable life skills that lie far beyond a prescribed curriculum. Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, a lifelong music educator who has inspired many high school musicians, is the author of several texts on leadership and still travels the nation to work with our youth.

Among Lautzenheiser’s many important ideas, most educators would agree that his Five Laws of Leadership and the Three Things Followers Ask of You prove most salient.

The Five Laws of Leadership
People are more important than titles. Leadership is often synonymous with a title: president, principal, drum major, captain, concert master. The rise to these roles, no doubt, comes through hard work and rigorous application. Because of this, the route toward leadership is often perceived as an award, and the recipient may abuse the role. The most effective leaders are those who are not noticeably different before, during or after their leadership tenure.

Leadership, then, is not a title, but rather a way of life. Servitude leadership places the leader on level or beneath the people he or she means to serve. People serve people, and if we are gifted a title, then we must embrace it as the humble servant of its patrons.

90% of leadership is attitude. So choose your attitude! None of us are short on anecdotes surrounding a bad-mood sort of day. The reality is that someone must be positive in the classroom, in the workplace, in the home. If we are honest, we know we could not survive without this positive energy, and the leader must be that positive energy.

The leader may be hollowed out by demands of time, by complaints both real and perceived, and by the shear energy it takes to lead. He or she must choose how to be. This does not mean the individual must choose how to react to each situation, but rather how to “be,” constantly. What if it’s raining outside? Be thankful for the moisture. What if one-third of your class is absent during a critical lesson? Be thankful for the improved student-teacher ratio. What about a last-minute fire drill? Be thankful for those who value your safety. When people define us as the leader, one of their first descriptors must be “positive attitude.”

We can’t lead others until we lead ourselves. This aspect of leadership must first be a choice, and like most choices, it bears habit. We must be the professional role model if we want to instill in our students the value and meticulousness of our discipline. This begins with professional dress, language and composure. Speak well and respectfully, and look at students and peers when stating their name (not the nickname you or their peers gave them). Be the role model, and your level of leadership will subtly become instilled in your followers.

We are measured by what we give, not by what we have. This may prove more difficult for young people who measure each other by their “stuff.” Ultimately, the most important things we give cannot be amassed or held in our hands. Consider and teach love, patience, joy, kindness, humility and self-control. If we reflect on our strongest leaders, our best teachers, we quickly note that they stick in our memory because of these gifts.

Paradoxically, you can only give what you have, so start learning new things to give! Whether it is through reflective reading and writing, a renewed spiritual life or spending time with truly gifted people, we must actively pursue avenues through which to sharpen (or round out) our skills. No matter how talented, none of us can become better than ourselves if we escape to our own island. Through great effort, the most impactful positive leaders constantly replenish things to give.

We assume total responsibility. If our ensemble or team plays well, it is a testament to their hard work. If our performance goes awry, then the director must assume the fault. Whether the fault was in preparation or performance, something needed improvement on the director’s end. As we teach, the welfare of each student must be in every decision we make, thoughtfully combining each team member into the long-term whole picture. This might be the most challenging law of leadership, but certainly a whole view that gives the students a level of responsibility to which they can rise.

The Three Things Followers Ask of You
Do you bring something of substance? Our followers seek someone who is prepared, energetic and thought-provoking. Beyond what he or she learned in college, a successful leader continues to develop to provide new elements of substance to every practice.

Can I trust you? Will you leave me? While this reality is more literal for some students, most students are not concerned about the leader’s physical absence. Rather, they want to know, “Will you keep working on this even though I still don’t get it?” or “Will we keep learning new things after the concert/contest/championship game?”

Do you care for me as a human being? If it comes between being right and being kind, always choose kind (you can return later if you still need to be right). The leader must make it safe. Avoid sarcasm. Work to answer every student’s question, and encourage to give courage. We will hear wrong answers, but if we make the effort to guide that student toward the right answer, we instill the courage for them to try again, and as an added bonus, we never have to tell them the right answer. Through our encouragement, they learn it on their own! Every student feels a part of your leadership and wants to be a part of your team.