written by Gary Rupert, Leadership Coach & Cultural Strategist for||:Leaders Creating:||

I don’t know about you, but when I completed undergraduate school and was sent out into the working world, I was content prepared. I was prepared to teach individual growth and performance skills, along with ensemble techniques. The problem was that I had no idea how to run a program. So, I looked around at the programs I admired and decided that what I saw, must be what I am supposed to do. I pushed my marching band to win trophies and my concert band to attain Superior ratings. When they fell short of those goals, I pushed them harder, believing that working harder was the answer. I was wrong!

Experience soon taught me that the things I valued, like winning trophies and getting Superior ratings, were products and not processes. I began to understand that to improve the product, I needed to improve the process. But I still had another lesson to learn.:

I found that the process was difficult to manage because the things I thought I valued were inconsistent with what the kids in the program valued.

I spent my first couple of years trying to build a program from the top down, only to find out that I needed to build it from the bottom up. As I reflected upon this, I found that I valued rehearsal more than performances. I also found that I valued the band’s culture more than I valued rehearsal. All of which led me to the idea of values-driven leadership.

Values-based organizations are the most successful organizations on the planet. They are based on a living, breathing culture of shared core values among everyone involved. Author Richard Barrett explains in The Values Driven Organization that understanding people’s needs — what people value — is the key to creating high performing groups.

As I considered this, I came up with five ways to create a values-driven culture:

1. Turn personal values into shared values.

2. Empower my students to help develop a sense of personal ownership.

3. Help my students realize their potential.

4. Teach my students how to have an impact; more than anything, people want to know they make a difference.

5. Embody my values — as a leader, my values need to permeate in everything I do.

How to Build a High Performing Values-driven Organization by Richard Barrett | MILE Webinar

I understood that leaders influence others. Values-based leaders take it to the next level, using their words, actions, and example to inspire and motivate others to pursue what matters most. For the values-based leader, what matters most is the greater good. They take the time to discover and reflect on what is most important to them, and they use their values as the basis of their decisions and actions.

What would this look like in a practical setting?

I decided there were three areas that would require my attention: my personal values, the band’s shared values, and the individual member’s values. It was important that I create a framework and culture that would align all three of these toward a common goal. I would have to begin with being able to clarify and articulate my own goals. This led me to Harry Kraemer’s From Values to Action, four steps that would guide me to that end:

1. Self-reflection — The ability to reflect upon and identify that for which I stand.

2. Balance — The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives, including differing viewpoints, to gain a holistic understanding.

3. Self-confidence — more than mastery of certain skills, it enables you to accept yourself as you are, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, and focusing on continued improvement.

4. Genuine humility — The ability to never forget who you are, to appreciate the value of each person in the band and to treat them respectfully.

At the band level, each year I would meet with the student leaders to develop three or four common core goals for which they wanted the band to represent. We would start by brainstorming, ultimately breaking down all the choices to the three or four to which we could all agree. This would be the band’s WHY….our culture.

From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership by Harry Kraemer | 2013 Leadership Symposium Keynote: Harry Kraemer Northwestern Alumni Association

The final, and perhaps arguably the most critical stage is developing student buy-in. When students feel valued, they are more likely to buy-in to the value-driven culture. Author Patrick Lencioni in The Three Signs of a Miserable Job suggests that there are three underlying factors when people are unhappy with their job: Anonymity, Irrelevance, and Immeasurement. Long before I read this book, I understood the value of these three things. Let’s consider how they play out in developing student buy-in:


All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority. This is about doing something to let them know that you see them. This can be anything from knowing they had a track meet the day before and asking them how it went, to just tapping them on the head with your baton when they pass by as they are preparing for class. I had one student that when she entered the band room, I would yell out her name and soon, some of her peers would shout out her name as well. They just need to be acknowledged….to be seen!


Everyone needs to know that what they do matters to someone. Anyone! They need to know that what they are contributing to the band makes a difference. They also need to understand that what the band does matters. Therefore, things like winning marching band contests or getting Superior ratings in concert band are good motivators. They demonstrate that their efforts are being recognized….they are relevant. On a more personal level, every opportunity we take to let them know they are doing a great job adds value and relevance to them as well.


People need to be able to gauge their progress and level of contribution for themselves. Interestingly, the means by which that assessment occurs matters little. Go to any home with small children and you are likely to see a door frame with little lines indicating each child’s growth from year to year. There is no need to explain how it happened, and it certainly doesn’t need to be scientifically based. They just want to know they are growing. That was the magic of tests before they became about GPA, class rank, and college readiness. Just help them to see that they are growing.

Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni | Vistage Webinar

Values-driven leadership takes a great deal of work on the front end. As the leader, you will have to make some difficult decisions regarding your own personal value system. Then you will need to guide your student leaders through the process of developing the band’s core values. Most importantly, you will need to help your students see that they are valued, relevant and contributing. All of this represents the foundation on which the HOW and the WHAT of your program will be built. All it takes is a desire to do the right thing by making choices and decisions that are aligned with your values. Interestingly, the goals to which I aspired when I first began teaching and fell short of attaining, came quite naturally to the program when it became value-driven.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at ||:Leaders Creating:|| value the opportunity to engage with our readers, clients, colleagues, and friends. Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section!

Gary L. Rupert was a music educator for 40 years and was most recently the Band Director at Smithsburg High School in Smithsburg, Maryland where his bands consistently achieved Superior ratings at local, state and national levels. He is a sought-after conductor and adjudicator in the areas of symphonic bands and jazz ensembles. An avid blogger whose daily entries are followed by people in over 57 countries, Mr. Rupert is the author of a daily inspirational book for students and teachers, “Today, No Every Day.” He is also a sought after speaker on leadership, motivation and creating a positive learning environment.

Gary Rupert has been named an Outstanding Maryland Music Educator, a Teacher of Excellence in both the Frederick and Washington County public schools, and has been twice nominated as a Disney Teacher of Excellence.

Gary can be reached at

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