Leadership: Learning to Be a Leader

Leadership is learned by experiences of success, failure and course correcting.

When I was in high school, I was in the band front, the part called show flags or silks. We twirled, turned and twisted big flags on 7 foot poles while marching in intricate, choreographed moves. We marched with the band at football game half-times, in parades and in marching band competitions. We even had the privilege of traveling twice from our home state of Pennsylvania to Orlando, Florida and to Niagara Falls, Canada.

After one year on the squad, I put my hat in the ring for the opportunity to try out for captain of the show flag squad. Our leadership skills had been observed throughout the year by the teachers connected with this school activity. The captain would also be responsible for creating routines. The teachers wanted to see us use our imagination. After the audition, I was awarded the position of captain. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to go to band camp at a local college to learn new routines before coming back to school for our own summer band camp.

I was thrust into leadership earlier than I had imagined when the senior captain who had graduated was unable to be in a June parade. As I stepped into the leadership position, I wanted everyone to do a great job. For some reason I adopted a style of yelling. I yelled throughout the entire parade shouting orders to make it sharper, stand up straighter and twirl with more precision. I acted like I was teaching military discipline with a new platoon.

No one listened to me. I felt terrible. It wasn’t any fun. I felt like a failure. And I wasn’t sure why I thought this was the way to lead. This style would never have worked on me. I went home discouraged and embarrassed.

During the summer, I went to the college band camp for high school captains to learn routines. I was sparked with creativity and the fun of the routines. I observed the leadership of the camp counselors. I made a decision to change my style and have an attitude of leadership that fit with me. How would I want someone to lead the show flags? What was authentically me?

The morning of our two week band camp at the high school arrived. It was two weeks until school started. As the football team practiced on the field, the band practiced inside and the band front had areas of the parking lot and grass. As I watched the other sections of the band front, including the decorative rifles, the majorettes and the color guard, I asked myself a question.

Why are we here? The answer: We want to have fun. We want activities that connect us to other high school students. We want to be a part of the football season and we want to go on trips.

That morning I made a decision to lead in a different way. Instead of practicing precision, I showed the twelve girls a variety of moves I had learned over the summer. I shared all of the fun. We had two hours that morning to laugh and play and enjoy each others company.

In the afternoon when the entire band front joined together with the band for afternoon group routine practice, everyone in my group was receptive to learning the marching steps and to tighten up the precision. During breaks, groups of girls clustered together to practice the new movements I had shared in the morning. They practiced because it was fun, not because I was yelling at them.

I learned more leadership skills that year by listening, watching, finding ways to bring out the strengths of each girl, collaborating, encouraging each of them to be leaders and leading by example. The failure in the parade taught me a lesson about leading. Pick the leadership style that would bring out the best in you and use it to empower other leaders.

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