Taking advantage of opportunities to lead the team is an expectation and a privilege of working within a collaborative team.  Stepping up and making a name for ourselves, showing what we are made of is a human instinct.  In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King talked about the Drum Major Instinct in a sermon;

“And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.

And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.

And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they have innately the drum major impulse or the drum major instinct.

Now in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don't believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don't deserve it and even if they don't believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. (That’s right) But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.”

King's "Drum Major Instinct" sermon, given on 4 February 1968, was an adaptation of the 1952 homily ‘‘Drum-Major Instincts’’ by J. Wallace Hamilton, a well-known, liberal, white Methodist preacher. King encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service and love. King concluded the sermon by imagining his own funeral, downplaying his famous achievements and emphasizing his heart to do right.

So the challenge as leaders is to recognize the Drum Major Instinct in ourselves and turn it into a collaborative leadership journey ensuring that we actually have a band marching behind us.  A drum major sets the pace and the direction while managing the performance of the band.  A hugely important role and one that only be successful if the band does in fact follow the direction given. 

Collaboration is the key. Recognizing that we grow by taking on new roles and opportunities, forging new leadership trails within the team, highlighting our talents and abilities, let’s look at how to do it keeping the team with you all the way. Collaboration is all about sharing strengths and challenges to support the success of ourselves and others.

Here’s how to make it work;

1.    Share the picture, the music, the vision of what you are doing when you step up to lead

2.    Use the collective knowledge and wisdom of the team and avoid knowledge hoarding

3.    Diversity in talents is an important factor in collaboration and should be celebrated rather than turned into isolated bunkers only to be used in case of emergency

4.    Trust needs to be built on a solid foundation of credibility and support of the ability to lead -it can’t be forced in order to be genuine

5.    Listen. Not just to the sound of your own voice. Not just to the music in your head.  It’s simple – hear what the rest of the team is saying in order to step up and lead them.  Hear what they are saying about the march you are about to embark upon

We need drum majors to function as leaders and there is nothing like following a great one.  This I talk about from firsthand experience as a member of a very large university marching show band in my past life. 

Step up and take the lead within your team making sure that as you put on the fanciest uniform and march out front, you have built a strong foundation of collaboration of strengths, ideas, and support. Be aware of the Drum Major Instinct we all have and make sure you realize that it is really the band you must serve, not the song within your own head. That is what makes a great drum major.    



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