It is no surprise that many of the finest leaders I have known during my career have been music educators. The skill sets that one needs as a music educator closely match those of corporate executives, politicians, and other leaders. Music educators often multi-task, inspire others, demonstrate visionary thinking, and excel at project development.
If you stroll through the business and self-help aisles of the local bookstore, you will find many books on leadership. A quick online search will produce a similar result with a multitude of websites devoted to leadership development and models of leadership.
As I began to take on more leadership roles outside of my teaching, I took a more serious look at these resources. This confirmed the connection between leadership and music educators. The leadership qualities outlined in the books and on the websites looked very similar to general teacher behaviors, but were even more strikingly similar to the leadership behaviors of music educators. Today I’d like to share some resources and ideas that I’ve found helpful on my journey.
Critical Actions of Leaders
“The Leadership Challenge” by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner identifies five critical actions of leaders:
- Inspire a Shared Vision
- Envision the Future
- Enlist Others
- Model the Way
- Clarify Values
- Set the Example
- Encourage the Heart
- Recognize contributions
- Celebrate the values and victories
- Enable Others to Act
- Foster collaboration
- Strengthen others
- Challenge the Process
- Search for opportunities
- Experiment and take risks
These actions certainly look like the strategies effective music teachers use to improve their band, chorus, or orchestra. They address planning for the future as well as the ongoing interactions that take place between students, administrators, parents and others to advocate for and maintain high-level programs. They also address the development and teaching of leadership within your own organization, which we know is a critical component of our student music ensembles. In my experience, my most successful ensembles always had extremely effective student leadership.
Another popular leadership model was outlined in Steven Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” This book along with his subsequent book, “The Eighth Habit,” gives us a slightly different set of leadership values, habits if you will, that are very applicable to music educators:
- Be proactive
- Begin with the end in mind
- Put first things first
- Think Win-Win
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood
- Sharpen the saw
The eighth habit that was identified in the later book:
8. Find your voice and inspire other to find theirs
The books elaborate on these habits and give you a clearer understanding of their relationship to your leadership and interaction with others, but I think it is clear that the principles are as relevant to the classroom as they are to the boardroom.
Find more resources for music educators, including books, websites, and organizations, here.
Mr. Covey also emphasizes a healthy balance between life and work. This is another critical issue that music educators must control and a topic that deserves attention of its own.
It is very easy to get caught up in the responsibilities of being a music educator. We all know about the long hours, the nights back at school and on the weekends. When you add things like outside gigs, community ensembles, church choir, family obligations, volunteer work and regular daily activities, the life of a music educator can become exhausting, and if not balanced appropriately, unhealthy.
The wonderful rewards and proud moments that come along with successful music programs keeps us going along with the energy that comes from a group of enthusiastic music students. It is for the sake of those very students that you must ensure that the balance remains as one of your “habits.” Knowing your limit, is also an important aspect of leadership.
Your Leadership Style
The initial step in developing leadership is the need to determine your particular leadership style. Self-awareness, as it relates to your personal leadership style, is critical. Again, there are many resources, both hardcopy and online, some free and some not.
Many of us are familiar with the well-known Myers-Briggs personality assessment that has been around for years. That assessment can be helpful for identifying your style, but there are others as well. My experience has been that using a combination of these assessments, especially those focused on leadership, can help you drill down to your specific style and identify characteristics that help you strengthen your existing leadership skills.
Using multiple assessments can help to confirm your leadership style and identify the specific characteristics that will help you use your own leadership skills more effectively. My own results returned a similar profile and placed me in a related category every time I completed an assessment. I couldn’t really argue the results when there was that level of consistency.
Identify Characteristics in Others
In addition to uncovering your dominant leadership style, you will learn to identify characteristics of other styles and recognize them in colleagues, administrators, parents, and others. Now you really start to fine-tune your leadership and enhance your effectiveness. Your success will be a result of the relationships you build with others.
It is important to remember a guiding principle here, you can’t change others, but you can change the way you interact with them.
Recognizing characteristics in others gives you the unique opportunity to customize how you communicate with them. The way you ask questions, the way you answer questions, and the way you present information to them. Many of us already do this intuitively, but it will become easier as you become more familiar with the various identifying characteristics. We have all learned how to deal with certain people based on their “mood” that day, but effectiveness increases when you are able to use specific approaches customized to the individual to make your point.
It doesn’t matter if you are trying to get the clarinets and violins to play in tune, convince the sopranos to blend with the entire chorus, balance the low brass section with the rest of the band, or convince your principal that you need more funds to purchase new sousaphones for the marching band, your leadership skills as a music educator will need to come into play. Take some time to investigate and study just a few of the resources available and I am sure you will quickly become even more effective than you already are. You already have the basic skills.