Student leaders are a necessity if we expect to have quality organizations. The day of the director “doing it all” is simply a part of history. Although many people are adding extra staff members to their program, it is still important that the students take on many of the responsibilities which are part of a quality group. (The “education” which comes from this is a real bonus to these “leaders” as they take on the various responsibilities of life).

Often our enthusiasm about getting the “extra help” combined with the eager student’s desire to hold a leadership position, creates a situation of unknowing which results in confusion and disarray. Much time is then spent “sorting through” the problems caused by poor communication, hurt feelings, overstepped boundaries, bruised egos, irate peer groups, false accusations, etc. Is it all worth it? Wouldn’t it just be easier to forget all this student leadership and do it yourself?

Although the temptation is often there to give up on this seemingly endless backlash of problems, we might want to take a closer look at our preparation of these young people for these given tasks. So often, student leaders are often chosen via: who plays the best, who has seniority, the popularity vote, Mother is the booster president, and so on. All of these reasons certainly have validity; however, the purpose of leader is to lead…and if the selected leaders do not have this ability (attribute), then the effort is fruitless. In fact, it is non-productive from every aspect causing digression instead of progression.

So many of these problems can be avoided if the student leaders have some guidelines in their direction. We have all experienced the student leader who simply is not motivated or assertive in handling the responsibilities, and conversely, there are those who are so aggressive they bulldoze everyone…..including us. There are those who are “afraid of hurting their friends’ feelings,” and those who “have no sense of diplomacy.” There is no RIGHT or WRONG way… strict rules we can give them since every situation demands a different set of rules. But we can help them with some general DO’S and DON’TS. It will give them a head-start in accomplishing their goals, and it will help you avoid the frustration of always re-doing what was not done well as a result of misinterpretation.

First of all, when students choose to take leadership roles, they must understand that this means giving up some privileges. They are now expected to DELIVER on all the assumed rules of the organization:

• BE ON TIME (Now, they are early)
• BE PROFESSIONAL (They are now role models)
• HAVE A POSITIVE ATTITUDE (Their attitude is reflected in all of their followers)
• MAINTAIN A HIGH STANDARD OF EXCELLENCE (As they go, so goes their group.)

In most cases, they will give up some of their popularity in their efforts. Jealousy runs rampant, and there are always those who think they can do the job better, or should have been the one selected, etc. This is part of leadership and to let them think it is all going to be fame and glory is simply a gross misrepresentation of what lies ahead.

Leadership is a lot of hard work and the privilege of doing the work is often the only reward there is….to expect more is certain disappointment.

With this in mind, it would seem advantageous to prepare these students mentally for what lies ahead. We must give them the tools to deal with their peers, adults, friends, and even us. When one becomes a student leader, the communication level adjusts. There is a higher level of expectation and a degree of greater confidentiality. If expectations are not met or the confidentiality is violated, the trust level needed to develop a good leadership style is destroyed.

Here are some guidelines involving the personality traits desirable in a quality leader. It can serve as a check-list for your existing leaders and a good prerequisite list in developing the future leaders.


  1. HIGH ENERGY LEVEL – Since leaders are often asked to “go the extra mile,” it is important that they have a high level of energy to maintain a busy schedule, can handle last minute duties, and will be the hardest workers in their groups. The followers rarely will out-work the leader. The leader sets the pace!
  2. KNOW HOW TO LISTEN – Such an important “secret to success!” Not only is this important in taking instructions, but it is MANDATORY in working with others. Listeners are few in number and we all appreciate someone who “has time for us.” A great rule for leaders: Keep your mouth shut and your brain open!
  3. EXUDE SELF CONFIDENCE – A role model is three to four times more of a teacher than a teacher. If the leader is to gain the respect of his/her followers, then self-confidence is a must. None of us want to follow anyone who lacks confidence. We want secure, reassured leaders paving the way for us.
  4. HIGH LEVEL OF INTEGRITY – Leaders understand the ultimate importance of TRUTH. They will always use complete honesty as the basis for any and all of their choices. Any deviation of this will, ultimately, damage the group.
  5. SENSITIVE TO OTHERS – Truly great leaders operate from a position of We-Us rather than the popular I-Me concept. They are an integral part of their group. They constantly avoid a posture of “being over” the other people, but rather are putting themselves in the followers position and accommodating their needs. They “sense the mood” of the group, as well as the individuals, and this atmosphere is of constant concern in their leadership capacity.
  6. WILLING TO FAIL – Yes…..they admit to being human. They are quick to admit their mistakes and equally as quick to correct them. They never push the blame on any unsuspecting scapegoat, but realize there is more strength in truth than in looking right at another’s expense.
  7. SENSE OF HUMOR. Although there has to be a discipline focus on the goal, it is often necessary to “lighten-up” and allow the followers a chance to relax, laugh, and then get back in action. humor and silliness are not the same. Humor supports forward motion while silliness restricts it.
  8. EXEMPLIFY OPTIMISM – They do not react with undo trauma to problems, but realize within every problem lies an opportunity for growth and forward progress. They welcome problems as a chance to test their leadership and gain self-improvement.
  9. AVOID COMPARISON GAMES – They realize that most comparison stems from insecurity. Their goal is not to be better than someone else but to be the best they can, thus allowing their group to be the best it can. Competition turns into cooperation and all “competitive spirit” is used to improve the situation for everyone.
  10. CARING AND SHARING – They will never hurt intentionally even though they understand there will be times when individual wishes will be overlooked in favor of their group’s welfare. They understand that part of leadership is “taking some of the heat” from those unpopular decisions and they accept this responsibility with strength and dignity. Their sense of caring is ultimate and their willingness to share every ounce of talent and ability is top priority in their actions.

IS THAT ALL? Of course not, but it is a healthy beginning to outstanding leadership. If these 10 attributes were a certainty for all of our student leaders, the rest of the task-at-hand would be simple. We have created a framework for THE BEST, and any leader, worth his or her salt will want to be the best. Isn’t that why they wanted to be leaders in the first place?!

Student leaders are such an important part of any FIRST CLASS organization. Our position offers us a rare opportunity to create a “living lab” for special young people who are willing to go “above and beyond the call of duty.” Let’s get them started on the right foot…..(or left foot for marching bands!)

Take the lead in teaching them what it is all about!!!

Bandworld Magazine: 20 Years ago