The interviewer asked me to describe what I do. I told him that I think most people believe I use kids to make music, but that would be wrong. I use music to make kids! Almost thirty years later a lady asked me what I taught and without pause I told her I teach kids. She immediately rephrased her question asking me what subject I taught, and I explained that I teach being on time, working hard, being responsible, and being respectful. Now clearly frustrated, she asked me a third time. Knowing all along what she meant, I finally explained that I teach band. Both the interviewer and the clerk at the store were inquiring about WHAT I do, and I was more interested in talking about WHY I do it!

Very few band directors or marching bands can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. When I say WHY, I don’t mean to play at football games, go to festivals, and win trophies…. those are results. By WHY I mean what is your purpose, cause, or belief? WHY are you a band director? WHY does your band exist? WHY do you show up at games on Saturdays? And WHY should anyone care?

Your purpose, your WHY, is who you are; your reason for being.

An important characteristic of is that it is happening right now. While it is true that your purpose unfolds into the future, the present moment is the only one you control. Your purpose creates your WHAT, your goals. Goals are what you do to bring your purpose to fruition. The important characteristic of goals is they only ever exist in the future. When a goal is accomplished in the present, it is no longer a goal, but an achievement.

Every organization I have ever been involved in has a mission statement; a fancy way of expressing its WHY to anyone who can manage their way through the corporate speak. I don’t know about you, but when I read mission statements, I typically have one of two responses; 1) What does that mean; and 2) What does it look like in a practical sense. I find that most mission statements don’t adequately define their purpose and if you are unable to articulate your WHY, you will also be unable to determine your means of accomplishing it. Let’s examine each, and then consider how they must function together.

My personal WHY as an educator was always, To accomplish this, I used music, in all its different formats, as the vehicle for teaching my students the things I believed they needed to be successful in life. I taught things like being on time, responsibility, hard work, character, integrity, and respect for others. And I taught these concepts through music and ensemble performance. I also wanted to create a program so rooted in these concepts that it would sustain itself over time. I wasn’t creating a band. I was creating a program!

Our organizational WHY was created at the beginning of each year. The staff and section leaders would collectively determine three or four things for which they wanted the band to represent: things like hard work, family, and excellence. These would become the band’s WHY! Once their WHY was determined, these elements became the foundation of everything the band did. Rehearsals which are approached with an attitude of hard work, inclusion, and performance excellence are more productive. Productive rehearsals lead naturally to better performances on the field, in the concert hall, and in the classroom. Students who learn to approach life’s challenges in this way tend to be more successful in life. Thus, the alignment of my personal and organizational WHY have the dual benefit of creating a quality band program and, more importantly, quality young people.

Some would argue there is a third WHY that must be considered, one that often bears little resemblance to that of the director and his band. Quite often it is stimulated by someone’s opinion that the band exists solely for the purpose of supporting the athletic programs or showing up at a numerous community functions throughout the year. While I would argue that these are important and valuable goals for your band program, they are not your WHY! Part of managing your way through this challenge comes in the way of educating not just your students, but your administration and your community as to your purpose as an educator. While we certainly hope that what we do is entertaining, we are not in the field of entertainment. We are in the field of education!

Let’s face it. Everything we do as bands is on public display, and everyone who has an opinion wants to voice it. As a result, we sometimes lose track of our WHY. We cannot allow ourselves to focus on the performance at the expense of our purpose. Experience has taught me that when I am able to align my personal and organizational WHY, the program runs well, and my students grow and benefit. Of course, the opposite is also true. When my personal and organizational WHY are in conflict, both the program and my students suffer.

So, what is your WHY?

That is something you are going to have to decide for yourself. Why does it matter? Because you owe it to yourself to live a life that leaves you knowing that you made a difference. Your organizational WHY is something you will have to create with the leadership team of your band. And why does this matter? Because the kids in your band are depending on you to create a learning environment in which they can grow, develop and have fun. So, what is WHY and why does it matter? It may not matter to everyone, but it better matter to you!

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 can be reached at garyr@leaderscreating.com

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Connecting every band, director, and student with wisdom, resources, and each other.