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USAF Band hosts Government Leadership Forum

Captain Dustin Doyle, Director of Operations for the band, discusses our approach to making music as it relates to the principles of leadership. (Photo by Chief Master Sgt. Bob Kamholz)

Washington, D.C. -- On Tuesday, June 20th, more than 50 General Schedule (GS) 13-15 employees joined The United States Air Force Band for a leadership symposium using music as a medium. The event took place in Hangar 2's Gabriel Hall on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling.

The symposium was one component of the Excellence In Government (EIG) conference, a 24-week session for federal employees focused on leadership development and improving effectiveness, efficiency and morale in the workplace.

The symposium was facilitated by Captain Dustin Doyle and featured a five-member panel of Air Force Bandsmen: Senior Master Sgt. Tyler Kuebler from the Airmen of Note on saxophone; Master Sgt. Brett Miller on French horn, Master Sgt. Megan Ensor on flute, and Tech. Sgt. Victor Holmes on bass from the Concert Band; and Tech. Sgt. Adam Tianello, the Air Force's one-and-only bagpiper from the unit's ceremonial flight.

The morning-long event began with a video of one of the Air Force Band's past flash mobs to demonstrate, in Capt. Doyle's words, "the immense amount of coordination and collaboration" necessary to achieve such a complex execution of sight, sound and motion.

Doyle then led a discussion focused on how the intended role of the conductor of a musical ensemble is to function as a centralizing force of a "living musical organism," unifying countless musical elements including tempo, rhythm, phrasing, dynamics, tone and more.

"However," Doyle continued, "the conductor must also possess an astute set of personal-relations skills in order to glean the best possible results from an incredibly diverse range of personality types." Doyle expounded that each member of an ensemble is a highly unique individual and requires a different approach.

Doyle went on to say that "you have to be authentic as a conductor because the band is like a piranha, they'll eat you up! If they don't respect you they'll put their heads in their stands and tune you out."

Interwoven throughout the discussion was a consistent theme relating musical examples as practical analogies to inspire creative ideas for improving workplace dynamics for the federal employees in attendance.  

A back-and-forth question-and-answer session followed and covered a wide array of subjects, including hiring, basic training, deployments, day-to-day life, instrument acquisition and more.

Tech. Sgt. Holmes, the newest bandsman on the panel, described his prior experience playing double bass as a fellow with the Baltimore Symphony. One attendee followed up by asking him if it was similar to life in the Air Force Band. Holmes responded, "It's not similar at all!"

"In the Baltimore Symphony I was only beholden to the conductor and the principal bassist. In the Air Force you've got an extensive chain of command: starting with a direct supervisor; their supervisor; a Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the flight; a Company-Grade Officer (CGO) in Charge of each flight; a Chief Master Sergeant of the entire band; and finally the Commander of the whole squadron." With the response of collective laughter in the room, Holmes went on to say "I've gotta check my email everyday!"

A highly insightful component was Master Sgt. Miller's description of the leadership characteristics and end results of four different Air Force Band commanders. Each had radically divergent leadership styles and personalities resulting in varied impacts on unit morale, effectiveness, efficiency and, ultimately, mission accomplishment.

Miller concluded that the most effective leadership style combined kindness, compassion and caring for the people who work for you with an effort to raise the bar on standards and expectations constantly, ensuring mission accomplishment stays on an ever-rising trajectory.

The event closed with the five-member panel performing a Bach Chorale three times, each under different forms of leadership.

The first was with a randomly selected member of the audience conducting. The "victim" had never conducted before, so the results were unsurprising: Chaos!

In the second, the musicians followed one another, led by whichever member had the lead line. The results were generally quite good, however, there were moments when clear ensemble and group phrasing and dynamics were not unified.

In the final performance, Capt. Doyle conducted the group. The results were striking. Vertical alignment cleared up; blend and dynamics were unified; and, the group had a collective understanding of phrasing. The conductor's function as a centralizing force was incisively demonstrated and it was abundantly obvious that the attendees clearly understood, many nodding in acknowledgement.

In post-session discussions many attendees expressed enthusiasm and excitement about how they can use the content presented throughout the day in their respective workplaces to improve both their leadership skills and the impacts on the people they lead.

This was the second time the Band participated in the EIG conference. Two years ago Lt. Col. Don Schofield, the current commander of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) Band, facilitated with similarly positive results.

Based on the favorable feedback from the conference attendees we can likely expect many future leadership symposia for the combined forces of the EIG and The United States Air Force Band. Congratulations to Captain Doyle and his panel of Air Force Bandsmen - Mission Accomplished!