THE PEOPLE ARE PERISHING!
WHY ACTIONABLE VISION IS IMPORTANT FOR EVERY BAND PROGRAM
written by Dr. John Franklin, Leadership Coach & Culture Strategist for ||:Leaders Creating:||
I have a confession to make…
I hate talking about vision. Don’t misread what I just said. I actually love vision. I embrace it. I do all I can to live it. I just hate TALKING about it. “Why?” you may ask. Because all too often, vision is “all talk, no action”. For too many band programs, it is discussed at the beginning of the year, slapped into a handbook, maybe put on a poster, and then that’s it.
The Proverb says that “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” There’s an implication in this bit of wisdom. We often think of vision as a noun when it should really be viewed as a verb. For vision to be meaningful, it must have action. Or as my band director from my undergraduate years at Florida State University used to say, “We are what we DO, not what we SAY or THINK.” (Thanks, Dr. Dunnigan!)
So, how do we turn vision from poetic verbiage into meaningful action?
A Process for Creating Actionable Vision
One of the easiest mistakes we band directors make is to create a vision that is based on our own ideals but is bereft of the values, or even the abilities, of the students we teach. In this vein, it is also easy to create a vision that does not take into account limitations such as resources, culture, passions, or duplication of someone else’s ideas. Vision should certainly be bold, idealistic, and perhaps a bit audacious, but what happens when the vision you have is so very distant from that of the students you teach? Or beyond the current capabilities of the program to achieve? There is a fine balance between being ambitious and in setting yourself up for extended disappointment born from ideas that never gain momentum. So, what’s the solution?
THE HEDGEHOG CONCEPT
Author Jim Collins developed The Hedgehog Concept from an idea he details in this excerpt from his bestselling book From Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t:
Are you a hedgehog or a fox? In his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”
Those who built the good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what we came to call a Hedgehog Concept for their companies. Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.
For the comparison companies, the exact same world that had become so simple and clear to the good-to-great companies remained complex and shrouded in mist. Why? For two reasons. First, the comparison companies never asked the right questions, the questions prompted by the three circles. Second, they set their goals and strategies more from bravado than from understanding.
This concept is represented by the following three circles:
In business, this theory supposes that the “hedgehog” is the nexus point where the following three questions meet:
What are you deeply passionate about?
What can you be the best in the world at?
What drives your economic engine?
The theory according to Collins is that companies who base their vision and goals on their “hedgehog” are likely to be more successful. Breaking it down, we can see that the vision takes into account the practicality of resources, the ambition of passion, and the power of uniqueness. It is this blend that produces a climate for programs to achieve goals that are as big, hairy, and audacious as the mammalian namesake of the theory.
Applying this concept to creating vision for our band programs, we can reframe these questions to the following:
What is our band most passionate about?
What can our band be the best in our region/county/state/nation/world?
What resources does our band have to be successful?
BELIEVE — DO — ACHIEVE
I am occasionally asked to work with band programs struggling to establish a consistent culture of excellence. More often than not, I find that some of these programs might have a generic mission statement that does not reflect the three “hedgehog” questions. It is not unusual to discover that most of their aspirations and dreams are around 75% based on what they are passionate about with the remaining 25% some combination of uniqueness and acknowledgment of resources. I work with them to better balance the three questions and then to help them craft more specific vision statements utilizing what I call the BELIEVE — DO — ACHIEVE approach to vision casting.
After defining our “hedgehog” as Step 1 of the process towards creating actionable vision, we move to Step 2 which is to establish our values-based behaviors utilizing a flow that looks like this:
This exercise is undertaken by answering the following three questions:
What do we BELIEVE our band’s values to be?
What are the ACTIONS that most accurately reflect these stated beliefs?
What do we hope to ACHIEVE as a band?
This is an extremely important part of the process of establishing actionable vision for our band program. We are able to answer these questions from multiple perspectives by choosing which one matters the most. For example, we might start with our values which will then inform us regarding what behaviors best reflect those beliefs. This in turn allows us to articulate which behaviors will enable us to successfully achieve our goals. Another approach might be to start with what we want to achieve as a band. We can then determine which behaviors will move us towards our goals. We follow this by defining our values based on what we say we are going to DO, not just on what we FEEL, SAY, or THINK.
By taking this approach to establishing actionable vision, we create an essentially airtight system that provides every band member a set of tools to approach every situation, answer any question, and determine any action that we might face. For example, when a drum major confronts a member for being habitually tardy, the focal point of the conversation is about how that behavior is dissonant against the values and/or expected outcomes. Similarly, when the band director has to make a decision about where to allocate budgetary funds, it is easier to do so when there are a set of values and outcomes to use as a guiding principle. In time, once a band program begins to view and police itself based on a mutually agreed upon set of BELIEVE — DO — ACHIEVE statements, it finds itself more in sync across its membership and less encumbered by a long list of “thou shalt” and “though shalt not” rules and regulations.
SELLING THE VISION
The third step in creating actionable vision is to get students and staff to “buy in”. This should be a fairly easy task at this point if everyone has been included in the process thus far, especially Step 2. To communicate and firmly establish your program’s vision, begin by taking these actions:
TALK ABOUT IT ALL THE TIME — The more you talk about it and keep it part of your teaching, conversations, exhortations, etc., the more it will become part of the fiber of your band’s culture. Saturate the airwaves with constant reminders about what you value and expect to achieve as a band!
MAKE IT VERY VISIBLE — In addition to talking about your vision, have visible reminders in all the common places — band room, instrument storage, social media pages, bulletin boards, band office, school office, trophy case, etc. The more visible it is, the more reminder it brings. Be intentional about the presentation so that it draws attention. I have included an example of what a poster might look like below.
EXPLAIN HOW IT WILL BENEFIT THE BAND — This is where the continuous discussion of the “ACHIEVE” portion matters. We need to be occasionally reminded of our WHY. One way to do so is by reminding ourselves how our decisions impact our ability to maintain that WHY.
USE YOUR BELIEVE — DO — ACHIEVE STATEMENT AS YOUR GUIDE — As I mentioned earlier, having a well-crafted statement allows for a clearer set of expectations and a more positive approach to dealing with areas of conflict or difficult decision making. By basing our culture on a set of values-based behaviors and common goals, we simplify the challenge of making sure every person in the program knows the expectations.
BE ENTHUSIASTIC — Admittedly, this is the one I struggle with the most as my personality trends towards even-tempered and measured behaviors. I often rely on my student leaders, particularly drum majors, to be the “cheerleaders”. That being said, students know I am passionate about the values, behaviors, and expected outcomes as I speak of them with great sincerity and passion. Some organizations, such as the military, even create chants to recite their values so that they are ingrained in the hearts and minds of every person in the unit.
SHOW THAT YOU MEAN IT — It is of utmost importance to be sincere, altruistic, transparent, and credible when presenting, teaching, and encouraging our beliefs and behaviors. As I discussed in my previous article, BETTER THAN PEANUT BUTTER & CHOCOLATE: How INTEGRITY & SERVICE is the Foundation for Any Successful Leader, integrity is an “all or nothing” proposition and a necessary component to be an effective leader.
REVISIT IT AT THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE, & END OF EVERY YEAR — Lastly, it is important to frequently revisit your BELIEVE — DO — ACHIEVE STATEMENT at the beginning, middle, and end of each year. The purpose for this is to “take a pulse” to see how well the band is aligning their actions with their thoughts and words and to make changes either in values, behaviors, or expected outcomes as needed.
As I learned from Dr. Dunnigan, it is important to be self-reflective and honest about how our actions define who we are as people and, collectively, as a band. I leave you one of my favorite self-reflective questions to ponder for yourself:
If every member of the band acted, thought, and spoke the way I do, what would our band look like or achieve?
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!
John is an educator in music and leadership who also happens to be a band director, a role that he has served for 22 years in a variety of settings including middle school, high school, small college, large state university, and both private and public institutions. His diverse experiences in developing and growing band programs have provided opportunities for John to learn from his students how to help them become effective peer leaders in order to create positive, intentional, and goal-driven band cultures. John’s work as a leadership clinician ranges from self-development and improvement, effective communication and pedagogical skills, and the application of servant leadership in the music ensemble setting. His materials are adaptable for a variety of settings including large and small groups, one-on-one coaching, virtual and in-person clinics, and for both students and educators of all levels.
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