To be a great leader, first you need to be a great follower.
Growing up, I knew I wanted to be the best at something. However, I always had a hard time figuring out what I was good at.
In high school I discovered my true potential—leadership. I had this innate ability within me to rally a group together and lead them with confidence. I discovered this attribute when I began taking drum major lessons in marching band.
If you knew who I was before high school, you would never have guessed that I would soon be leading one of the top high school marching bands in Southern California and then eventually becoming head drum major for the Fresno State Bulldog Marching band. I was a very rowdy child who would cause all sorts of trouble and never sit still. I was never the greatest student, and I was always trying in some way or another to prove myself to my peers.
When high school came around, I saw an announcement on the whiteboard for those interested in taking drum major lessons with our parade drum major with the intent to become her successor. I remember expressing interest, and the drum major initially questioned my intentions. But regardless of her first impressions of me, she decided to teach me, and I was very eager to learn.
I began trying to prove myself to my drum major. Anything she taught me I would have down by the next lesson. It even got to the point where she was unsure of what else to teach me. Spinning baton came very naturally to me.
I was not the only one who was in the running for drum major. Two of my bandmates were in the running as well.
One day in the summer, I was given a lesson I’ll never forget. My drum major sat me down and said to me: “If the drum major auditions were tomorrow, you would not win.”
I didn’t understand. I would spend hours after school dedicated to my craft, getting better and better.
There was only one problem—my incorrect mindset. I was so infatuated with the attention I was receiving from my spinning ability that I was preventing myself from what I really wanted to achieve: being the best leader for my band.
The band was not in need of a great spinner. It needed a great leader who they would gladly follow. Luckily for me, my drum major saw my potential and guided me to discover the great leader within me.
To Be a Great Follower
One of the greatest lessons that I learned in training is that 5 percent of the job is spinning or conducting and the other 95 percent is leading your band. When you’re drum major, it isn’t about you. It’s about the people in uniform following you.
At Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, California, we have a tradition of excellence. We believe that hard work, dedication, and pride in your band is what wins competitions. So every rehearsal needs to be focused and needs an end goal in mind.
Every rehearsal I strived to be the best example for my band. I did everything I was told to do and led by example. At this point, I was striving to be the best follower that I could be.
Finally, the audition day came, and at the end of my junior year, I was named as the parade drum major for the fall of 2013. However, that is not where the story ends.
Yes, I became drum major, but I wanted to become the best leader I could be for my band. It wasn’t until our final competition that I achieved what I was always after—the band’s respect.
Our band had stepped onto the competition line, and I was given the OK to start my band. I began my opening routine, and then I slipped and missed a catch. I pushed on and led my band through the rest of the competition though I was upset at myself because of the mistake that I made.
At the end of the run, I told the members that I was proud of their performance, and then someone in the band shouted, “We are proud of you too!”
The band began cheering for me. And that’s when it hit me. It didn’t matter how well I did or the mistakes I made. I had the respect of my band, and that was when I truly felt successful. I became the leader the band needed.
High school soon came to an end, and I decided to go to Fresno State. Everything I learned in high school band I took with me to college, and I improved on what I already knew.
I became one of the assistant drum majors of the Fresno State Bulldog Marching Band my junior year, eventually becoming head drum major my senior year. I strived to be “BMB Bold” and be the best example for the rest of my band.
If you are an aspiring drum major reading this article, understand two things:
1) Strive to be the best that you can be.
2) Know that it is not about you but about the people following you.
About the Author
Jonathan Grant is a senior music education major at Fresno (California) State, where he was the drum major of the Fresno State Bulldog Marching Band. Previously he was drum major for the Rancho Bernardo High School Royal Regiment in San Diego, California. He is currently finishing his last semester playing bass trombone in every major campus ensemble including the Fresno State Clendenin Brass Quintet.