Leadership: What We Can Learn from the Best Dance Instructors

"A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, [the people] will feel they did it themselves."  ~Lao Tzu

I took a salsa dancing class a few years ago.  At one point I had the good fortune to be paired with the instructor.

I was a little uncomfortable.  The way he was holding me, there was no other place to put my left hand, but on a spot on his shoulder.It was not that the spot was inappropriate, but it was just not where I would have put my hand.  I kept worrying that I had my hand in the wrong spot, and that I was embarrassing myself.

A few minutes later, as he turned to the rest of the class, he showed the women that this is the spot they should rest their left hand - right where my hand was.

But I hadn't known that.  How did I end up in the right position?

As you probably know, in dancing they say the man "leads."  And I know I used the word "held" above, but it doesn't seem precise enough.  It was more like he created a light frame for me to meet him at.  I never had the sensation of being pushed, moved, or forced in any way.

This made me think about Peter Block, an author and consultant. His work is about empowerment, stewardship, accountability, and community. I was struck by a sentence I read in his bio at a conference.

"Block is the author of several best-selling books... these books focus on ways to create workplaces and communities that work for all... Block discusses bringing change into the world through consent and connectedness rather than through mandate and force."

I like those words, "consent and connectedness."  I would say the way my dance instructor led me was almost a sort of consent, connectedness or magnetism.   It was almost like the way he held himself, led me to effortlessly do my part — to follow him well.

As I continued to think about this, other questions popped up.  (I may have to interview this guy.)

  • Can you be a great dancer without be a great "lead-er??
  • Do you "lead" different people differently?
  • How does it feel differently when the interaction shifts from "leading" to partnership?

All good questions, for him, and maybe you too.  And for you I want to add one more:  How can you hold yourself today, so that your constituents effortlessly follow you?

Photo credit: Microsoft Clipart

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