Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Making the Band

In a marching band there are different dynamics that create a combination of unity and harmony. The role of a leader can be seen in several ways, but also have an interesting relationship with the idea of followership. Are you a leader if your followers are just following the rules of authority?

The word “leader” is a part of the title of Section Leader and can create a certain level of “legitimate power” based on the title. According to Hackman and Johnson (1991), “legitimate power is one’s formal or official power” and is not the same thing as leadership (p. 342). In addition, they note that it is “possible for followers to use their legitimate power to influence leaders” (p. 342). So while their title may give them some power and authority they can also be viewed as followers of the Drum Major and Band Director. Can you be a leader and a follower at the same time? Or are you just being an “effective follower”? According to Kelley (1988), “the key to being an effective follower is the ability to think for oneself and to work without close supervision” (p. 144). They are following the orders of the Drum Major and the Band Director, but also going above and beyond the rest of their section. This leads to the concept that while the Section Leaders are “following”, they also have followers. With this theory, they may not be followers to the Section Leaders at all, but just doing what they are told to do. In this circumstance, there may be a limited option to participate as an “effective follower” because of the need for uniformity and structure. With that being the case, Section Leaders may no be longer viewed as leaders, but instead as effective followers and coordinators.

They may hold traits that could be considered leadership qualities. According to Choi (2006), leaders are empathetic with charismatic leadership (p. 24). Section Leaders are supposed to motivate their sections and may show empathy to build trust and inspire their band members. It could be argued by Choi that these traits in addition to interpersonal skills related to these traits show that Section Leaders are leaders . These traits could bring the unity necessary to have a successful section, which in turn creates a successful overall band.

According to Ross (1991), sometimes a leader may need to be a follower and a follower has the role of a leader (p. 191). A section leader seems to validate this theory as well as show the equality of importance to both the role of leader and follower. The band’s optimal performance may have many factors, but the Section Leader’s role as both follower and leader seems to be equally valuable to the band’s success.


  1. Your question: "Are you a leader if your followers are just following the rules of authority?" reminded me of something I read in this week's reading by Fiedler. In discussing different leadership styles in certain situations, he says that it is possible that a leader that is "directive, managing, and task-oriented" can be successful when the situation is favorable for the followers and also when it is clear what the tasks are for the group. As a section leader, the task is already laid out, and directions are coming from a source above the section leader, who is relaying them to his or her followers. In this situation, the section leader is still a leader. He or she is just more of a task-oriented, directive leader than a permissive and non-directive one. Of course, Fiedler says that this type of leadership will only work when the situation is favorable to the followers. If the band members do like their section leader, or if the practice is going way too long, then they will likely not respond well to this type of leader. That's when being a human-relations, permissive leader might be helpful is getting the followers motivated to try the song a few more times. It seems to me (with no band experience) that a section leader would most often need to be the first type of leader to get the specific tasks accomplished. Either way, I think a section leader is still very much a leader, even if directions are being taken from a superior.

  2. This is a really interesting article. I must admit I don't know much about how marching bands are organized, but when I read this I immediately thought of another example. This might be a little far fetched, but in some sense you could argue that a marching band is a like a company. There is a CEO (marching band director), VP's (drum majors), managers (section leaders), and then employees (everyone else in the band). In a company the CEO is obviously one of the people that set the vision and strategic plan. The other people below him are then in a sense following his vision. So in this sense they are followers. But, like the drum majors and section leaders the managers also have a group below them that they need to motivate and lead toward this higher vision. All managers manage differently and this is one of the things that could make them a leader. (I'm not going to get into the manager vs. leader debate). The different section leaders of the band may not lead or teach their sections in the same way, but they are responsible for their own individual sections and getting their sections ready to perform the arrangement that their marching band director chose (vision). I would argue that this would make them leaders.

    This also reminds me of discussions in class about big "L" leadership and little "l" leadership. I don't think in many cases there is just one leader within an organization. By what we've discussed in class it seems that almost all of us possess some type of quality of leadership and followership. In your marching band example I think we can see big "L" leadership, little "l" leadership, and followership. I'd hate to see a band out there performing that didn't have all three. Nice blog!

  3. I appreciate your feedback. Catherine, I agree with Fiedler and your analysis. Part of what Kelley also talks about with being an effective follower is committing to the mission. So in turn the band members may be truly committed and give their all to the Section Leader and the band. This would in turn be one of the variables of being an effective follower in circumstances when they need to follow the standard rules. In turn, the Section Leader would then have followers. I do believe that as Ross says, you can be both a following and a leader. I think this then leaders towards establishing empathy and empowerment, which can lead towards a better leader as well as better follower.

    Laura, I did also have that in mind while I was typing this out. The idea of the roles that the band members play in a larger corporate context.

    I appreciate the new idea of the big L and little L. I think that is a great way to think of the different levels of leadership within the band as well as within an organization. I think the tendency is to notice the big L, but the little L may be the glue that sticks it all together.


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