Leaders In Profile: Living The Five Practices with Florida State University’s Marching Chiefs Band

3/11/2013 12:00 AM ,

Living The Five Practices with Florida State University’s Marching Chiefs

Similar to many undergraduate students, I entered Florida State University (FSU) with the desire to learn, grow, and engage the campus community. Fully embracing the university’s “Seminole Spirit” I was honored to audition for and earn a spot as a tuba player with the university’s world-renowned marching band, the Marching Chiefs, during all four years at FSU. And even though the marching band experience of performing and representing Florida State may not initially appear as a learning opportunity for leadership, it was a prime-time teachable moment for me. 

Performing with the Marching Chiefs for the final time as a graduating senior offered a perfect opportunity for self-reflection. What did being a member of the Marching Chiefs mean to my fellow band mates? To the fans? To the institution? To me? It was then that my student leadership epiphany occurred. I realized how closely aligned the Marching Chiefs’ pregame performance, a show that became second-nature to me, was to The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®—the work by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner that I discovered earlier that spring.

With my sights set on graduate school in Higher Education Administration at North Carolina State University, I had made the most of my final semester at FSU by enrolling in a Student Affairs Leadership course that covered some of the topics first-year Higher Education graduate students study in their introductory coursework. For our final class project, we were required to juxtapose one leadership theory/philosophy that we had learned during the semester with our own student leadership journey and create a presentation that would clearly illustrate this personal voyage to our fellow classmates. This academic challenge provided me with the perfect chance to incorporate what I had learned about leadership through The Five Practices, to take a walk down memory lane as a member of the Marching Chiefs, and to invite my classmates to share in one of my most favorite undergraduate experiences.

For instance, let’s spotlight the first Practice: Model the Way. Before the Marching Chiefs step onto the field, the tuba section is positioned on the sidelines. As I would look out into the crowd of 80,000 enthusiastic fans, I could see nothing but endless possibilities that FSU had to offer its students, and what it had offered me. The university set the stage for me to grow personally and develop as a student leader, to find my voice and engage in opportunities that reflected my values. Along with the Marching Chiefs, my involvement in two other special organizations contributed to gaining a better understanding of what was important to me and who I was as a leader and also exemplify the overarching values of FSU campus life: the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH) that focuses its pillars on Leadership, Scholarship, Recognition, and Community Service through programming efforts; and Inter-Residence Hall Council (IRHC), FSU’s Residence Hall Association, that emphasizes holistic learning, support, and service to all residents living on campus. So, as my band mates and I move toward the center of the field, I see myself setting the example for the FSU community of all the values that we shared: to be inclusive of others, to collaborate, to support each other in all that we do together, to serve others, and to be committed to the values of the community/organization.

While performing our university’s Fight Song, I always felt the Seminole spirit, a sense of belonging. In turn, I believe this experience helped me Inspire a Shared Vision with others—embracing a climate of achievement, engagement, inclusivity, diversity, responsibility, and lifelong learning. In short, exemplifying FSU’s motto of Vires, Artes, Mores: Strength, Skill, Character. Whether working with faculty and student members of the University Student Conduct Board or University Housing, or interacting with fellow members of the Marching Chiefs, I encouraged everyone to search, participate, and engage in campus life, in fulfilling the vision of the FSU community and the groups my peers and I were a part of. Reflecting back now on how the Marching Chiefs captivated audiences through singing, chanting, and many other game-day traditions, I see how, by appealing to our shared aspirations of a creating community through these experiences and certainly (hopefully) a team victory, we were all united in a common vision to support the Seminole Nation.           

Growth and development requires leaders to Challenge the Process, and searching for opportunities for improvement was always critical for the Marching Chiefs. We relied on the energy generated by the stadium crowd to maintain the momentum of our performance. However, when we realized that one of the musical numbers we played regularly—one that we were all very comfortable with—was no longer fully engaging the crowd, we seized the opportunity to innovate change and quickly switched-up our playlist to include new songs that would better engage the crowd and improve the audience’s experience. 

As the performance nears its finale, the Marching Chief’s play the traditional “War Chant” that provides an opportunity for the entire Seminole nation to come together as a community. The Florida State Seminoles are widely known for this tradition and fans rely on the band to play our tune of intimidation. Likewise, we rely on the crowd to execute the infamous “Tomahawk Chop” to the sound of our chant—a mutual relationship that intensified the energy in the stadium and our school pride.      

Following the team’s arrival, the marching band’s job was far from complete. Continuing to play encores of our fight song throughout the game, the Marching Chiefs created a stronger sense of community, celebrating together with the fans and team.       

FSU set the field for me. The institution prepared the ground, established the organizations in which I could participate and express my values and voice, and provided the skilled professionals that offered guidance. From there, it was up to me to make the decisions to put on the uniform, learn the songs, perform the marches, collaborate with the band and, ultimately, engage the crowd. Exposure to The Student Leadership Challenge helped me clarify my values and understand the influence of leadership, and provided me the ultimate platform to share my story.


Katie Lewis,
a recent graduate of Florida State University, received her B.S. in Psychology and Family & Child Sciences in the spring of 2013. While at FSU, she held numerous leadership positions, including University Student Conduct Board member, Associate Director of Inter-Residence Hall Council (IRHC), and vice-president of her Hall Government. She is currently a graduate Residence Hall Director at North Carolina State University in the Higher Education Administration program. Continuing her education, Katie aspires to ‘pay it forward’ to the student-life community, learning and practicing various approaches that promote comprehensive and holistic student success. She can be reached at kml09f@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kmlewis6.

Category: Success Stories

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