A Leader on the Line

I was co-captain of the drum line in high school marching band my junior year. In that leadership role, I was looked up to by my fellow drummers to lead the way in music and marching; I was literally looked down on from the observation tower by our director, who expected me to keep the heartbeat of the band going. That gave me some latitude in taking measures to keep the drummers in line, namely issuing pushups or laps around the practice field if anyone messed up.

Sometimes I enforced discipline as it was given out by the director. At other times, I caught mistakes and issued discipline myself. One particular day during band camp, the whole band was catching heat from the tower. It was one particular part of the music that was giving everyone trouble. The drummers wore down and started making mistakes too. They were getting tired of the discipline, calling each other out, mumbling and grumbling at each break in the music. Then it happened: though barely discernible, I missed a beat. As we ended that section of music, no one looked at me; no one had noticed my mistake. But I knew what I had to do. I dropped and gave myself ten. And the atmosphere totally changed. I did not issue a single pushup more the entire day, because each drummer dropped to the ground on his own when he made a mistake. No more grumbling and no excuses. Each simply took responsibility for himself, admitted the mistake, and took the discipline.

A leader on the line must lead by example.

So what is required of a leader on the line?

  • The ability to balance care with candor.
  • The willingness to let someone else take the lead when it benefits the team.
  • The opportunity for your team members to correct mistakes as they arise.
  • Love for the work that the team is doing.
  • Enough consideration to know that the team sees your reactions and judges whether or not you really care about them.

My team has been short-staffed lately, which is no fun for a 24-hour-a-day psychiatric crisis service provider. I have had the opportunity to get out of the office and back on the line, leading assessments and providing direct intervention with children and families in need. I think about my band camp story and the lessons I learned from that experience as I take on the present challenges at work. I hope it helps you too!

When has your leadership example been on the line? Had any dramatic turning points on your team when you put your leadership on the line? What have you learned?

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