By Tim Lautzenheiser

Successful band programs are a reflection of a successful band director. It is rare to find one without its predictable counterpart. Higher education continues to search for the ideal preparatory curriculum that offers the expectant music educator the necessary library-of knowledge required to create and nurture a quality band program; however, the development of the leadership personality of the band director continues to be an equal challenge. We know teaching context is equally as important as the curriculum content. With that in mind this chapter is devoted to a bird’s-eye view of two leadership styles as they impact the teaching/learning environment.

We would all agree the responsibilities of a successful band director extend far beyond the podium. Aspiring young music educators are required to study all aspects of music history, theory, form and analysis, composition, rehearsal techniques, orchestration, curriculum development, acoustics, and a host of related subjects. The development of the band director as a ” leader ” is often overlooked or discounted as an area outside the realm of musical expertise needed to be a professional success.

Times have changed. The inner desire to participate and contribute to a quality ensemble is still a high priority of young music-makers, however the process to achieve this end has shifted dramatically over the last three decades. In the past students were expected to be obedient, focused, and dedicated to excellence. If they did not oblige, strong disciplinary measures were often brought to bear. Such extrinsic imposed control became the admired standard as a requisite for musical success. An all-or-nothing approach is not as well received by today’s more worldly student. Although the quest for musical excellence is still at the forefront of their desired goals, the journey (process) is equally as important as the destination (product). There is a shift from the overall welfare of each musician while maintaining the group’s high artistic standards, both on and off the podium.

There is an important difference that exists between the demand-for-excellence and the desire-for-excellence. While both avenues may produce the same results, the impact on the participants often dictates their future commitment to the ensemble/band. For example, a director-enforced rehearsal atmosphere can (and often does) produce an outstanding ensemble; the demand-for-excellence is recognized by the students/members and they behave accordingly; often this is to avoid any negative reprimands generated by the director. Our second example is a student imposed disciplined atmosphere leading to a similar quality performance, however the rehearsal environment is a reflection of both the musicians’ and the director’s agreed upon intent. Moreover, the desire for excellence shifts more of the responsibility back to the members of the group.

In reviewing our two examples, we (as music educators) must ask, ” Which environment develops the life-long musician? “

A Demand for Excellence

Noted author/psychologist, Dr. Abraham Maslow, points to survival as the primary human need on his Scale of Hierarchy. When an individual is confronted with a perceived threat, the initial reaction is to survive at all costs. In other words, the person chooses whatever path ensures ongoing survival. Based on this premise, behavior modification can be determined or controlled by pain, shame, guilt, and/or blame. Submission takes precedence over confrontation; the follower simply submits to the pressure rather than risk the consequences of challenging the authority-figure and the outcome associated with insubordination. In a classroom setting we can extrinsically (and expediently) motivate students by employing management/ leadership tactics that threaten perceived survival, i.e., avoidance of pain, embarrassment, etc.

A Desire for Excellence

A desire for excellence finds the source of motivation within the followers/students. Rather than the director being responsible for the rehearsal climate, the students determine the organization’s level of expectation. They are given more freedom concerning appropriate behavior, individual commitment, disciplinary standards, and so forth. Generally, it takes more time to achieve the same level of musical performance as a director-controlled ensemble since time consuming group choices now become a part of the learning process. For many directors, the benefits gained by sharing-the-ownership of the program are more important than the satisfaction of having ultimate control.

Arguably, there are merits to both styles of leadership, classroom management, teaching philosophies. To suggest there is only one acceptable route to musical excellence is short-sighted; however, by understanding the extremes of the teaching/ leadership processes we increase our options for creating the best atmosphere to support our educational/ musical goals.

As a reference point, let us label our two teaching styles as:

  1. Demand for Excellence (Director control-oriented)
  2. Desire for Excellence (Student control-oriented)

(Author’s note: To avoid being caught in the semantics of the words, desire and demand, we all know every fine music educator teaches from a position of desire; we also know every successful student is demanding in his/her personal learning habits. Demand and desire stand as equal partners in the growth/success journey. We are focusing on the source of application; is it director generated, student generated? Or what combination will best serve the journey/process and the destination/product?)

A demand for excellence reflects a more traditional style of leadership. The focus is on ” finding and fixing ” what is wrong; the extremes justifies the means in accomplishing the desired results. A desire for excellence is a more contemporary style of teaching/leadership. The focus is on an agreed alignment of the members to contribute to the purpose and vision of the organizational goals; the means often takes higher precedent over the extremes.

The consummate leader/teacher/director does not necessarily prescribe to one particular style, but blends both to accommodate the given situation/s. By reviewing the characteristics of demand and desire we can gain a better perspective of what will serve our programs.

Comparison of Teaching Styles

  • Director A: Demand for Excellence
  • Director B: Desire for Excellence

Finding Solutions

1A. Director A is answer/tell oriented:

Director A feels the need to answer every question and give specific instructions to the members of the ensemble. This guarantees the situation outcome and avoids the confusion associated with lack-of-direction. It can also thwart creative problem-solving and decision making offered by the students. Students become accustomed to the director ” being in charge ” and they wait obediently for the next directive.

Positive value: It offers quick instructive directions for problem-solving.

Negative potential: Students rely totally on the director and avoid personal initiative.

1B. Director B is question/listen oriented:

Director B does not feel a need to ” have all the answers, ” but focuses the students on finding their own solutions. While this leadership style develops group responsibility, it can consume an inordinate amount of time. Many possible solutions will be tried before an acceptable idea surfaces. The director must offer guidance and structure for the students.

Positive value: A source of creative ideas comes forth and the students learn and understand the pros and cons of decision-making.

Negative potential: Forward momentum can be lost because of a lack of unified direction. Without proper coaching, students can become frustrated because they simply don’t know what to do, how to do it, or why they should do it.

Decision Making

2A. Director A makes all decisions:

Director A looks at every choice with a careful analysis of how it will impact the organization. Top-down decision-making is the overall mode of operation. Even though there may be various student leaders/officers, etc., the ” final call ” is made by the director. In truth, this style of leadership is a combination of leader-manager: assigning, doing, and evaluating is a function of the director.

Positive value: Total control and complete understanding of every programmatic detail.

Negative potential: An excessive amount of time is spent micro-managing, checking and re-checking every choice/decision while being the only answer source for group.

2B. Director B empowers students to make decisions:

Director B assigns given tasks to the students in an effort to develop a sense of organizational ownership while tapping the creative thoughts of the participating students. Members are challenged to resolve their own problems and are encouraged to learn by trial and error. The director monitors the progress of the students as they explore choices and seek solutions; ongoing assessment and course correction is required. Director B is postured in front of the program, ensemble, students to create a visionary goal. When the group does not respond favorably, the desire for excellence becomes the primary vocal point and the leader/director counters by focusing the attention of the group members on their chosen goal; the emphasis is on the soft issue, the people rather than the product. The students are challenged to rise to the occasion and urged to understand their responsibility to take charge of their musical destiny.

Positive value: The source of energy lies within the students; goal achievement is attained as a result of their contribution, intrinsic motivation is developed. The director-student communication is expanded, enhanced, and creates group synergy.

Negative potential: If the students do not recognize their need to assume this responsibility, forward momentum is halted. An excessive amount of valuable time can be lost.

Program Pacing

4A. Director A has definite opinions:

Director A maintains forward progress by relying on the tried-and true ideas and thoughts that have stood the test of time. While there is always room for growth, there is a certain black-and-white approach that keeps the program and the students well within the dictated, approved boundaries of the director. The future of the program is predictable since it reflects the opinions and thoughts of the director.

Positive value: People know what behavior is appropriate and they usually adapt quickly. There is no second-guessing or wondering how to interpret the directions of the leader/director/teacher.

Negative potential: Opinions are not challenged or questioned, thus alternative options are rarely explored. People simply wait for instructions and obey without going through a detailed thinking procedure for themselves.

4B. Director B is open minded and invites new data:

Director B also has opinions, but they exist as an avenue to further exploration of possibilities. ” Either/or ” gives way to, ” How can we make it work? ” The line of right or wrong is flexible and the thoughts and feelings of Director B are always in transition. Having an open ear encourages students to express their ideas without fear of appearing inferior or unknowing.

Positive value: Students eagerly share their thoughts and ideas realizing they can contribute to the texture of the program. Rather than repress concerns, people bring them to an open forum where there can be discussion and resolution.

Negative potential: People who need clear and concise directions are often confused by the ongoing shifts in program adjustments. They can easily be discouraged and frustrated by the lack of direction-definition if the director does not communicate the given.

Leadership Posture

5A. Director A demonstrates a mode a self-protection:

As part of the control-posture, Director A never allows a situation where there will be any kind of threat to his/her position or leadership stance. The system is designed to maintain the security of the director and to avoid any questioning of the dominance of the leader. There is a clear-cut division between student, teacher, administrator, parent, etc.

Positive Value: Although this may be interpreted as a self-serving characteristics, it can be help directors/leaders move ahead without a fear of being undermined by others in the organization.

Negative potential: Students/members begin to reflect the self-protection theme and start building their own walls of defense to guard their personal interests. Honest communication begins to decrease between director and students.

5B. Director B is more relaxed in the interpretation of position importance:

Director B avoids self-protection to demonstrate a higher level of self confidence. Time and energy that might be spent protecting the position of director is devoted to the inclusion of others to share the various responsibilities connected with decision-making and program mission.

Positive value: The students connect to a common vocabulary and interpret the director’s open style as a pathway to mutual growth for everyone.

Negative potential: If the director doesn’t maintain a professional posture, the lines between student and teacher become blurred and many students cannot decide what is and what isn’t acceptable behavior.

Problem Identification and Correction

6A. Director A focuses on problems and is quick to correct them:

Director A has a radar-keen sense when it comes to identifying problems. The never-ending goal of solving every problem to attain perfection is at the top of the priority list. The ability to analyze every minute infraction and give specific directions for correction ensures ongoing improvement.

Positive value: The director can use knowledge, experience, and a library of solutions to push the ensemble forward at a very fast pace. Veteran teachers can even predict problems before they occur and help the students avoid breakdowns.

Negative potential: The emphasis is always in a “ fix and repair” mode. If there are no evident problems, some must be created to accommodate this style of teaching/leadership. Rarely is there the opportunity to feel a sense of personal satisfaction and enjoy a group celebration.

6B. Director B highlights building strengths by learning from mistakes:

Director B recognizes problems but encourages, leads, and demonstrates “how” to fix them and “why” the correction needs to happen. Instead of giving the students the answer, Director B will go through an educational exchange allowing the students to contribute to the improvement pattern while offering creative counsel to find the solution.

Positive value: The members of the group begin to model self-responsibility and share the responsibility of critical correction. The director can now dedicate more energy to other aspects of musical growth.

Negative Potential: The director may assume the students have proper information to complete the correction process while the members of the group either may be waiting for instructions or simply do not know what to do or how to do it, which leaves the ensemble at a musical standstill.