Servant Leaders Inspire the Why – Pursuing Leadership Mastery, Getting the Most Out of Your Student Leaders

Frank Troyka, Steve Andre • August 2023UpClose • August 20, 2023

Many factors go into developing an effective student leadership team. The most important thing you can do is be an effective role model. Your students and other faculty members are always watching you. Some of them are watching and maybe even hoping to see if you fail. We will all make mistakes. It is how you react to those mistakes and the investment you have made in those around you that will go a long way in writing your legacy. You have probably heard it a thousand times, “You can’t lead others until you lead yourself.” That adage is as true today as it ever was. There is no effective leadership system where the leader relaxes and you still achieve goals, you must be persistent and consistent! Let’s never forget that leadership is an extra responsibility. You must be willing to come early, stay late, eat last, and do countless other tasks. You often do the work that others don’t want to do, and you can’t be a leader if you are afraid of accountability and responsibility.

Think about the traits you desire from the members of your leadership team.





Solid Musical Skills



And that list could go on and on. Then only you can answer the question, “Am I modeling those behaviors for my students?” After all, you can’t expect your students to exhibit those behaviors if they haven’t seen them in action from their director.

Let’s talk about a trap many directors fall into. You just send your students to leadership camp and expect them to come back with all the answers. That attitude is akin to watering a plant once and expecting it to live. How do you keep the energy and enthusiasm going after the newness wears off? Adversity is going to happen in some way, shape, or form, as the director you must push through and model the desired behavior. Leadership isn’t something you do; it is who you are. To continue to grow your leadership team, you must meet with them regularly. Those meetings should model the teaching strategies you want from your leadership team. There will be an agenda, efficient use of time, thoughtful discussion, and clearly defined goals. Your leaders must understand your vision and expectations. In turn, you need to be there for them when they slip into patterns of behavior that could negatively affect your program. Leadership is hard and your student leaders will make mistakes. Don’t get mad at them when that time comes – teach them! Then ask yourself if there was something you could have done to better prepare them to handle a particular situation. Few important skills are mastered easily; most take patience, repetition, and learning from numerous mistakes. Students are resilient and they will rise to the occasion. As the director, you must give them the nuts and bolts to be effective leaders and put them in situations where they can be successful.

Here are some practical tips for growing your student leadership team:

Set a good example; develop your skills and don’t let others’ attitudes or behaviors deter you from your goals.

Develop their skill as a performer, even if they don’t know what to say they can demonstrate how to do something.

Start with why, not with what. Why are you doing something and making sure that your student leaders can iterate the why? Then they show them how you want something done.

What is information.

How is affirmation.

Why is inspiration.

Teach humility. That doesn’t mean being a pushover, it is being fiercely committed to doing the right thing, taking the high road, and not defaulting to the path of least resistance.

Help them with communication skills. They need to know the value of non-verbal communication. In addition, they need to be succinct.  

When you ask them to teach, make sure have set them up for success; give them small tasks with specific instructions.

Help them recognize patterns of behavior that could become failure patterns.

Remind them the new members of your program are watching the leaders and will follow their example. The question isn’t if you can talk it, it is will you walk it?

In today’s world, you can’t force kids. The era of doing as I say and not as I do just doesn’t work. You must create a culture that students want to be part of. When most of your students have bought into the culture, they will take care of many of the issues simply by setting a good example. That being said, changing a program’s culture is a long and winding road that is hard in this instant gratification world we live in. As the director, you need to find meaningful short-term success as part of a long-term, sustainable culture of excellence in your program. Have a long-range vision for your program and set short-term goals as part of a long-term strategy. 


To paraphrase Gandhi, “Are you the change you want to see in your program?” I think we can all agree impactful leadership is a powerful tool for establishing a culture of excellence in your program. It has been said many times, “The way we do anything is the way we do everything.” If you want your students to take care of the details, then you must be a detail-oriented person. If you want your students to play in tune, then you must address the intonation issues. You get the idea. Everyone wants excellence, but are you willing to pay the price? It is paramount that the leaders in your program create success for others. Just like plants won’t grow in the wrong environment, you can’t expect your students to grow in a toxic environment. Creating the right culture sets the tone for a student to want to change and have a positive impact on the program. Let’s be clear, we are not talking about a lack of structure, and everything is coming up roses. Students crave structure. You must have consistent procedures and routines.  Students need to know the boundaries and that there are consequences when those boundaries are crossed. However, all of those must be in place so the students know there will be consequences up front. Then it will be how you address the undesired behavior that impacts the culture of your program. There must be buy-in from the students and a lack of consistent enforcement of rules is one of the quickest ways to alienate your students. After all, integrity is a key component to improving the culture in your program.

There is no such thing as being “too prepared” to start a new school year. An effective student leadership team can be one of your most valuable assets. Will it take time and energy to develop their leadership skills? Of course. Will it be worth the time and energy? Absolutely! You will expect a lot out of your students throughout the school year. Investing in your student leaders will pay dividends throughout the year. Stephen Covey calls it “The Emotional Bank Account” and we can’t withdraw more than you deposit. While you are not investing money, you are investing in things like kindness, compassion, clarity, motivation, commitment, and trust. Leadership sets the tone for achieving a vision and will help motivate your students to sacrifice for the attainment of the vision. I wish you the best for the upcoming school year and may the synergy between you and your students provide the foundation for amazing experiences in your program.

Steve Andre, Managing Director – The Servant Leadership Association for Music with significant contributions from Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser, CEO – The Servant Leadership Association for Music, and Frank Troyka, Senior Educational Consultant – Conn-Selmer Division of Education

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