Directors' Toolbox

Qualities That Make a Great Student Leader in a Marching Ensemble – Part 3

September 28, 2012

Over the past few posts, we have been discussing the qualities that define an excellent student leader.  The first two traits this three-part series has explored are a student’s attitude of service and his or her commitment to excellence.  A third pivotal trait in a leader’s effectiveness is the student’s ability to communicate information in a live, face-to-face setting, as well as “read” his effectiveness in his followers.

Social Sensitivity:  A Dying Art?

Sometimes the biggest personalities can be blinded by their own bright glow, and while these performer-types may be a pleasure to watch in action, they often don’t make good, relational leaders.  The best ensembles are based on a stable relationship of trust between its members and its leaders — trust that can be established through the leader’s attitude of service, as discussed earlier.

In terms of teaching, the best student leaders have the maturity to know when to push and when to ease up — when the call for excellence means more push-ups, or whether that freshman needs a minute to avoid bursting into tears in front of her entire section.  According to Dr. John Villella, President of Vivace Productions and Associate Dean of the West Chester University School of Music, “student [leaders must] realize that if they want their peers to respect and follow them, the leader must place value on the followers.  The fundamentals of leadership education have not changed.”  However, “technology and the way students communicate have changed dramatically over the past two decades.”

Today’s technological means of communication have the potential to stunt the development of face-to-face social sensitivity, but students who show leadership potential will exhibit the ability to relate to their peers, read social cues, and effectively communicate the group’s goals in person.  The student who exhibits the maturity it takes to communicate well, and the judgment to pursue that communication at the right moment, will help propel his or her marching ensemble to new levels of cohesiveness and work ethic.

The selection of a student leader is never an easy choice.  But directors who do give their young musicians the opportunity to shine in areas of leadership equip these students with skills that will benefit them far beyond their days on the band field.  And ensembles fortunate enough to work with well-equipped student leaders enjoy achievement and camaraderie they can find no place else.


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