5 Leadership Tips From The Dance Floor
I love salsa dancing. The other night while on the dance floor, I started to draw a line between salsa and leadership. Salsa is a great analogy for leadership - guidance, support, strength, empower. After a standard salsa outing with my mind focusing on leadership, I've come away with five tips we can take away from the dance floor and apply to the workplace.
1. It's Not About You
To be a great leader on the dance floor it is not about having the most experience or the most capability. Of course you need to know the basics well, but beyond that leadership requires something different.
I have had really enjoyable dances with salsa partners who knew only a handful of basic moves. Leaders who desire attention and try and show off what they know end up jerking, pulling and pushing their partner around the dance floor. This, I can tell you, is pretty unpleasant!
Being a good leader on the dance floor is about communicating well, having power, awareness and making your partner look and feel great. And this is exactly what a leader should be doing in the workplace.
2. Power to Support - Not Power To Push
Salsa can teach us about leadership power. If you don’t have power on the dance floor, your partner will have no confidence in you and will have no idea what you are trying to get them to do.
It is the same for your team in the workplace. On the dance floor, great leaders always hold and support their partners firmly with both hands; guiding and supporting rather pushing or forcing. Done well, this feels amazing. Your dance partner, or your team, will know exactly what is expected of them and feel safe at all times.
When your team feels safe, just like that of the dance floor, they will be inspired to take more risks; they will push themselves beyond their comfort zone and be more open to making mistakes, thus developing.
3. Create A Safe Environment
Being aware of your surroundings is hugely important on the dance floor. During a dance, the leader knows where they are going and the follower does not. For this reason a great salsa leader needs to make sure they don’t let their partner bump into anything - other people, furniture, walls, pillars etc.
This is really put to the test on a busy dance floor when everyone is moving in different directions. As a follower, I will always seek out this kind of dancer even if they don’t know a lot of moves or they aren’t the most experienced dancer because it makes me feel safe and comfortable. And when I'm comfortable, I am more able to enjoy the dancing. In the workplace, it is a leader’s role to ensure there is a safe path forward for their team.
4. Make Others Shine
In salsa, a good leader will spend some time at the beginning of a song to understand what their partner is capable of. The story of salsa is that the leader is the 'frame' and the follower is the 'picture'. In essence, it is the leader’s job to make the picture shine. The leader should make the picture look and feel great. It isn’t about the leader and what they are capable of; it's about what they are able to bring out in others. The goal is not for people to notice the leader, but to notice the team and the team’s capability.
5. Be A Strong Follower
This might sound strange to anyone who doesn’t dance, but salsa has taught me a lot about how to follow well. Sometimes leadership isn't about being the one in charge, rather being a leader for yourself and those around you. To be a good follower in salsa, just like in the workplace, it is really important to be strong in yourself - in your frame. If not, people will take advantage of you and take you in a direction you don’t want to go.
But while you are strong in yourself, you are also flexible and open to change. A good follower does not make assumptions. Instead, a good follower focuses on what is being communicated in the moment. This takes some work but I have found there is a strong sense of power and joy if you can do this well.