What a Marching Band Can Teach You about Leadership
I was lucky enough a few months ago to attend the Ohio State vs. Nebraska football game at Ohio State. It was a raucous affair in which OSU pounded Nebraska into submission. But that wasn’t the best part.
The best part was the halftime show by The Best Damn Band In The Land. They showed me something that I knew I needed to share the minute I saw it. Now, I’m no huge band follower – I was definitely there for the football game. That said, I know something special when I see it and given I tend to look at the world through a leadership lens, I immediately saw this blog post emerge.
During that halftime show, the OSU band demonstrated what true teamwork looks like and displayed the amazing impact that can be achieved when everyone on the team executes their role flawlessly. To that end, I invite you to check out the below video of the halftime show. To get the point I’m about to make, skip ahead to 6:35 into the video and strap yourself in because you’re about to be amazed.
The halftime show was a tribute to video games and what the band pulled off with that galloping horse was nothing short of amazing. Imagine 100,000 people hanging out during halftime enjoying the show but also chatting with friends and eating hot dogs. All of a sudden, the horse takes form and people applaud. Then it starts galloping. The place went absolutely insane. And when the horse reared up on its hind legs, you would have thought OSU just won the national championship. This was teamwork art in action. You can learn a few things as a leader from their performance:
Dare to Dream Big
The band leaders had a big dream for this show. They set out audacious goals to do things that hadn’t been done before. Imagine the conversation in the band room: “Hey! I know! Let’s make a giant horse! And better yet… LET’S MAKE IT RUN DOWN THE FIELD!” Talk about giving your team something to rally behind! Set audacious goals for your team. Dare to be great and try new things. You’ll never amaze anyone with your little incremental ideas.
Execute Small but Paint a Big Picture
When you look at the guidance each band member received, it was likely small and tactical. Walk here. Turn there. Play this sequence of notes. Duck under the trombone slide. Tons and tons of small steps targeted at an individual team member. Multiply that by the dozens of members of the team and you have a bunch of small steps that have to be remembered and flawlessly executed by a large number of people (sorta like your organization, right?). What was different here is EVERY MEMBER of that band knows how they contribute to the big picture and what that big picture looks like. I’m sure they were provided with a detailed description of what they were building toward and they were able to make the connection between their hundreds of steps, turns, notes, and movements and the broader horse galloping down the field. When people understand their role in the big picture, you’re able to gain their commitment to executing their steps of the process properly. They understand how if they fail, the whole organization fails. Absent that big picture, missing a step or a note doesn’t seem as important in their minds. Paint that big picture to get them bought in to execute flawlessly.
Train. Train. Train.
I guarantee they didn’t make that horse gallop on the first try. More likely they created a horse that should have been sent to the glue factory. That said, it’s easy to see they put in countless hours training for the big show. Their leadership was relentless in pushing the team to perform perfectly but at the same time kept the team’s motivation up by reminding them of their role in the big picture. That big picture also created peer pressure to perform because the team members felt accountable to one another to not screw up. Don’t be afraid to put your team through their paces and make them train hard for the big events.
Shine the Spotlight on Them
At the end of the performance, all the cheers were for the team. No leaders stepped forward to claim credit or bask in the glory of the performance. It was clear all the shouting and applause was for every individual walking on that field. When your team succeeds, try stepping BACK from the spotlight and push them forward. Give them the credit they deserve and deflect credit that comes your way onto them. Nothing builds loyalty more than a leader who is willing to put their team first. Remember that the next time your team is wildly successful in their endeavors.
So there you have it – some leadership lessons from The Best Damn Band In The Land. What lessons would you add based on what you see in their performance?
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC
– For more tips on building strong relationships with your team members, grab One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership or download the audiobook version at Audible.com. Read the section on leading your people for some thoughts on how to treat them as individuals and stay in touch with their reality.
A beautiful illustration of one of my leadership mxims: “Team First.” Every team member subjugated their goals to the overall goal of the team.
This past week, I was at the OSU Fisher College Center of Excellence (COE) Summot 2013 at Blackwell and Jon Waters, director of the BDBITL, spoke about the band and this particular event. He showed some video of the practices where band members were running into each other and things were not so smooth. Then he spoke about his hands off approach towards mistakes made during practices and even shows. Band members just know when they have made a mistake and no one has to tell them to improve. Each line has a student leader at the beginning and end of the line. The students are accountable to their line leader and the student line leaders to the overall band leadership. Even the idea for a video game show came from students, while directors helped formulate the timing of the show on computers. It is very much a student led and motivated organization. On another note, membership in the band is not guaranteed, their are lots of hungry freshman nipping at the heels of even seniors for a spot in the band. It is a tough job to memorize steps and songs for the show, you will notice that there is no guides on the instruments for the shows. Finally, all of the shows are printed on paper for practices and distributed to students but they are looking to fund iPads for the band members to greatly reduce the need for printing. If you are a fan of BDBITL, you can help fund this change.
Great illustration and metaphor Mike,
What I took away from the lesson was that not one of the individual band members could ‘see’ the big picture – they had to believe in the vision of the leader. They had to believe that each step they took was critically important to the final goal.
They obviously achieved that –
The band members don’t just take the vision on faith – the vision and the steps toward it are painstakingly charted out, 8 beats at a time,for the entire halftime show. Read here if you’re interested http://www.quora.com/Marching-Bands/How-are-marching-band-routines-designed
Pardon me if I don’t jump on the bandwagon (pun intended) for the OSU marching band. Lame stumblebums compared to the University of Minnesota Marching Band during the years I was in it (1970-74).
After two years in the ranks, I was pleased to be selected as a rank leader. The rank leaders received ‘charts’ for the shows we were going to perform at the next game. It was our job to transmit those instructions to the student musicians in our ranks. And as you describe, after a week or two of practice (depending on the football schedule) by the time we marched onto the field for halftime, we had an amazing show for the fans in the stands.
I remember a particular incident during rehearsal early in the year. As we worked on the week’s routine, I lead my rank into position … a full 8 beats too early. The conductor stopped the band and pointed at me. “Krikava. What are you doing there? Someone said you were supposed to be good.”
Here’s what that incident taught me:
1. Someone had been paying attention to me during my first two years and thought I had potential. I’d let them down.
2. My mistake resulted in the whole team (rank) being wrong – I’d let down my team.
3. I needed to live up to the expectations of those who had confidence in my ability and those who I was selected to lead.
I learned more about teamwork and leadership during my 4 years in the marching band than any other class or experience in college. I still think about it, and I still marvel at the inspirational ability of that band conductor who took me to task some 39 years ago.
My season football tickets are with a couple of band mates (including one who was in my rank that fateful day). The Gopher football team isn’t always great entertainment. But the marching band wins every week.
“Lame stumblebums?” Did you even watch the video? It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on a football field. A comment like that, so uninformed and obviously rooted in something other than facts, threatens to undo your otherwise vary salient points.
I’m pretty sure Steven was partaking in witty banter and smack talk… Besides, anyone from the University of Minnesota has anything they say discounted by 86% here in the great state of Ohio… 😉
Very good. No doubt team is important. A leader is LEADER because of team.
I’ll take exception to the Best Damn Band in the Land. Though OSU may have a better winning record than Michigan State University, The MSU Marching Band beats OSU’s hands down. I’ve watched them both for many years in East Lansing. MSU’s band rocks!
That rivalry aside, I appreciated the leadership point you make. Well taken.
The “art of organizational relationships” is a book called Ping-fa, produced in pre-China 2300 years ago and known in the West as “Sun Tzu.” The book provides all the instruction needed for strategic planning and realizing your objectives – without conflict. Here’s my report on Ping-fa: http://tinyurl.com/auxtvdq