From Stomach-Churning to Leadership

Describe a leadership experience you have had.

My stomach lurched violently as if it had been caught on a fishhook and jerked suddenly forward. The scene before me, a bunch of shorts and t-shirt clad high school marching band kids puffing through various instruments, swayed and became blurry, as if separated from me by a heat wave. I saw the look of concern on the face of the sophomore girl next to me, and thought, “If I faint, I hope she catches me.” Luckily, I didn’t faint during my first marching band practice of freshman year in 100 degree heat. Not so luckily, I ran off to the side of the instrument arc as the fishhook caught my stomach again and I vomited into the dry yellow grass. This was the most embarrassing possible way to start my reputation with my new high school peers, I thought. Amazingly, it was also the beginning of the best leadership experience I’ve ever had. Despite my messy first practice, by the end of freshman year I discovered I really liked marching band, so much that I wanted to be even more involved the next year. As a sophomore, I tried out to be flute section leader. This meant I would be in charge of the other nine flutes all of marching band season, teaching basics and correcting mistakes. This sounded like fun to me, until I attended my first section leader meeting. The fishhook tugged my stomach again when I realized I was the only sophomore; most of the other section leaders were seniors. I suddenly realized I had no idea how to lead a group of my peers, all of whom were close to my age and experience level. For the first few rehearsals, I was nearly as awkward as my vomity freshman self. I didn’t feel like I had the authority to give direct commands and correct the mistakes of a group of girls my age; I was terrified of coming off as bossy and losing their respect. Our band director, Mr. Hoover, might be able to shout commands at us and treat us as if we were military recruits, but I had a feeling I, a 5-foot-3 nervous sophomore girl, wouldn’t quite be able to pull off this same army general style. I finally found a leadership style that worked for me; I used humor. No high school girl wants to be bossed around by another girl her age, but everyone responds well to laughter. I started exaggerating and imitating the wrong way to do things, saying things like, “So if we march all hunched over like this, all the football players on the sidelines are going to laugh at how wimpy we look, but if you stand up straight they can’t laugh at us, just our dorky uniforms.” I was thrilled to find this goofy approach working for me; every flute player had perfect posture at every show that year. My leadership was consistent with my easygoing and slightly dorky personality. It helped me make corrections and suggestions in a way that put everyone at ease while still earning and keeping their respect. My experience in marching band taught me how to lead my peers, a skill that I’m sure I will use again and again, though hopefully not in 100 degree heat or an ugly uniform. I’m guessing not too many stories about great leadership start with throwing up into dry grass in front of 200 people, but looking back on the great experiences I have had and lessons I’ve learned, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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