About ten years ago, my wife and business partner Michele Torch and I began a quest to learn ballroom dancing. At first, it was quite simple, just learning a few basic steps, like a toddler learning to walk. I thought to myself “this is easy, what’s all the fuss about?” As we advanced, it became progressively more difficult, because I had to not only learn my part of the entire dance pattern, I had to learn my partner’s part as well. Even more challenging, I had to learn to lead.
Leading is not telling your partner what to do or using brute strength to force her to move or do her part. Instead it is suggesting a particular step or move by a fluid movement such as lifting my arm perpendicularly so she can turn under it. Or softening my knees and gliding forward off my left heel, as a suggestion of starting the first dance step.
At the heart of all of this is trust. Trust that I have a vision and know and will hold up my end of the dance pattern and flawlessly execute my part so that my partner is free to do hers. Trust that I will not step on her toes or get in her way. And trust that I will be there to catch her if she falls.
Other key leadership concepts, in both dancing and business, include productive conflict, commitment to decisions, holding each other accountable and achieving collective success.
Do these leadership concepts resonate or sound familiar in your workplace? Everyone in an organization wants to be free to do their part, with gentle guidance, and contribute to the dance we call business. With leadership being such an important part of an effective organization, no wonder it sometimes seems like we’re drowning in leadership advice.
Everywhere you turn, there are books and articles, seminars and podcasts about how to be a better leader. Much of it is perfectly good advice, but I also sometimes think we too often get bogged down in peripheral concepts when we talk about leadership.
To me, good leadership–on the dance floor or in the office–starts by first building trust. It’s the foundation that allows you to move through the other steps and achieve collective results. It’s as easy–and as difficult–as that.
Good business leaders take the time to listen to others. They have empathy. They bring passion and vision to their jobs, which is contagious for everyone.
All of this gives employees permission to say things without fear of retribution. That allows people to speak openly and improves the level of group problem-solving. Every organization has issues, and solving them takes skill. But without first building trust among the group, people won’t open up and share the real issues, and thus you can’t resolve them and move the company ahead.
We’re all shaped by examples of good—and unfortunately sometimes bad—examples of leadership we see early in our careers. They have a way of burning themselves in our memories, because they come at a formative, impressionable moment in our lives and professional careers.
I was lucky enough to learn from a great leader up close, in my first job as an associate product manager after graduate school. He was the division vice president at a large corporation that produced food products. I immediately noticed how he was committed to the collective success of the organization and all of his direct and indirect reports, how he looked upon them in an empathetic and developmental way and always saw the glass as half full in the people around him.
But most impressive of all was how he routinely deflected senior management criticism of his employees. If I made a mistake, he covered for me instead of leaving me exposed (in other companies and positions, I’ve taken a direct hit and sometimes even had another’s mistake directed to me). You know what happens when someone protects you? You want to stand up for them, help them and promote them. You are inspired by them, and will follow them into battle because you trust them.
In his excellent book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author and management consultant Patrick Lencioni outlines the kinds of behavioral tendencies that typically lead to the downfall of teams. In descending order of importance, he identifies these key dysfunctions: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of team accountability and inattention to team objectives.
Teams that are willing to address these dysfunctions, he writes, are comfortable asking for help and can readily tap into each other’s strengths. They avoid wasting time, make higher-quality decisions and are better able to retain star performers.
Just as in business, good leaders on the dance floor take the time to listen, and they have empathy about their partner’s ability to execute and bring passion and vision to each and every dance, which is contagious for everyone on the dance floor and in the organization.
I know these concepts to be true and that these tactics work, because we’ve tried them in our own company. If you decide to try them in yours, I hope you’ll drop me a line or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it went.
- Posted by Stuart Glassman
- On April 25, 2019
- 0 Comments