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How Being a Marching Band Director is Like Being a CEO

Most people don’t think about it; but, if you happen to be a marching band director you KNOW it -successful marching band directors have the same skill sets as successful Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). CEOs must be forward thinkers and planners, they must be experts in resource and time management, they must be motivators and innovators; and above all, they must be goal-oriented, inspirational, and visionaries.

Forbes published an article, by Joel Trammell, in June of 2014 (The Three Qualities a CEO Must Have to Succeed),that pinpointed three qualities that a CEO must have to succeed:

  1. Credibility
  2. Competence
  3. Caring

In order for any CEO to succeed, Trammell  states that all of these traits must present in the CEO and continually compliment each other as the CEO manifests himself or herself as a leader. Perhaps falling under Trammell’s “Confidence” quality, two other “Cs” likely come to mind with regard to being a successful leader: “Confidence” and “Creativity”. Without confidence a competent CEO can come across as timid and creativity remans supreme with regard to true innovation, solving problems, instilling motivation, and maintaining excellence in all things.

Directing and operating an excellent marching band program is akin to running a successful business and is strikingly similar to the job of a CEO. Although music directors leading other types of music ensembles (concert band, choir, etc.) share a number of responsibilities similar to their marching band colleagues, there can be little doubt that the administration and logistics involved with operating a marching band are not only far greater, they are Herculean in comparison. Due to the many different competencies that marching band directors must acquire throughout their careers, they often find themselves being sought after to begin second careers as school administrators, university executives, or for other types of management positions. Their highly developed skill sets in administration and management mirror those found in highly successful top-level executives and include:

  • The ability to find key talent and maintain it:
    • Marching band directors must nurture, develop, market, find, and maintain and retain talent (i.e. both students/performers and their team) -it is not uncommon to see band directors utilize various software and techniques to track and manage these needs
  • The ability to manage multiple inventories and spec future needs:
    • Marching band directors maintain, manage, and distribute, product inventories, personnel rosters, and transportation manifests, and also manage expense items, capital items, practice smart banking principles, and prepare and mange budgets on a regular basis, including short-term planning and strategic planning for long-term improvements and needs
  • The ability to pursue development opportunties and secure funding:
    • Marching band directors are always raising money and seeking new sources of funding -whether it be through local, state, or federal sources, or through seeking additional revenues through their communities and networking connections, or by starting capital campaigns through such programs as or via social media outreach -developing parternships with local vendors and area buisnesses are a must for the successful band marching band program
  • The ability to triage and make the best use of existing resources though strategic decisions and smart implementations
    • Marching band directors must have the ability to discern and prognosticate what they can accomplish in their given circumstances: ever changing personnel, ever changing student abilities, ever changing schedules, ever changing funding sources, and diverse inventories that vary from year-to-year; they must make good decisions each day regarding a variety of different needs and demands -the best directors use rigid, proven methods that work, but also are pliable with regard to their abilities to creatively meet needs as they evolve and arise -they must be able to think quickly and solve problems immediately using sound judgements based upon gained experiences and available data
  • The ability to lead effectively:
    • Marching band directors must lead through example and must become exemplars themselves -they must know their products from the ground up, they must know how to both demonstrate and inspire, they most know their organization’s current limitations, and they must take the lead in moving it forward and making it better each year -they must have a direct vision of where they want to finish, what goals that they are trying to accomplish along the way, and create a solid path to get there -a marching band director must be mission and outcome driven
  • The ability to communicate effectively:
    • Marching band directors have the need to communicate with many different entities and through many different channels -they will do this through both digital and traditional ways and must decide which approach is best suited for each circumstance
      • They must communicate with their students (main work force) -from musical communications, to personnel needs and scheduling, to individual feedback and group feedback -marching band directors even employ CAD style drafting techniques (for drill) and both military and artistic style instruction to their students on the field
      • They must communicate with their bosses (administration, boards, and stake holders)
      • They must communicate with their vendors (buyers)
      • They must communicate with their community (consumers)
    • They must build and maintain a positive culture throughout all levels of those they communicate with and also be able to listen positively to any and all feedback AND learn from it
  • The ability to master their own public relations (PR) and marketing:
    • Marching band directors are tasked with creating their own marketing and typically, because of this, they have mastered many associated skill sets such as: social and digital online media; sound and video media, print media, news media, etc.  -band directors often have extensive skill sets in Adobe Photoshop, audio and video software, and also have a deep knowledge of copyright and legal licensing as it pertains to their industry
  • The ability to assess and act upon assessment:
    • Marching band directors are constantly making judgements, evaluating group and individual performance, seeking input from other qualified individuals, and acting upon the data they receive -band directors consistently evaluate process and make adjustments toward making their group more excellent throughout each year and the next
  • The ability to manage stress effectively:
    • Marching band directors will make dozens and hundreds of decisions each day whether they are music in nature, administration or personnel related, or logistical -successful directors will have developed coping methods to deal with every day stress, “out of the blue” stress, and yearly stresses all while maintaining proper focus on the tasks-at-hand and positive forward movement toward their goals; in addition, they must have to have the ability to manage their students stresses so that the group, as a whole, can make progress at each rehearsal

In addition to all of this, marching band directors must be able to pedagogically teach music (a product) and provide an education. They must create and operate within an educational environment that both excites and inspires their students -whether it be the education or love of music itself, the benefits that come from working in social groups and as a team, learning self-respect and respect for others, or simply, the life skills and learned discipline that comes naturally from being a part of a marching band.  Most important, marching band directors must LOVE what they do and believe in the overwhelming benefits and positive outcomes that spring from their service to their students, their school, and their community.

The success of any marching band program is inherently tied to the abilities and motivations of the band director that leads the group. Not unlike successful CEOs, successful marching band directors will succeed despite the obstacles and challenges put in front of them and will always be planning for the success of their students, and for maintaining excellence in their programs.

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website
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