Leadership skills or: lessons for life I learnt from Salsa dancing

Last Friday night I did something very unusual: I went Salsa dancing. After returning home from work I quickly changed clothes, picked up my fifteen-year-old dancing shoes (cream-colored with a heel hight of ten centimeters and slightly worn out) from the back of my closet, stuffed them into my handbag and – after having had a delicious all-you-can-eat-Sushi-feast at Nagoya with some friends – went dancing.  It was a strange feeling, since I hadn’t been out to dance in ages. And by “dancing” I don’t mean jumping around the gym on my own to crazy Zumba music (which I do all the time) or shaking my booty in the strobe lights of some club – I mean performing actual synchronized dance steps together with a partner without looking too dorky or stepping on each others toes all the time. And what can I say? It was awesome – not only in terms of fun, but also regarding the things dancing can teach us when it comes to leadership and communication. Yes, you read correctly: leadership and communication are key, just like at work, in private and in our everyday lives.

Lateral leadership

Unlike at work or in a relationship, the roles we have when it comes to dancing are predetermined from the beginning: the man is the leader and the woman is the follower. As an independent and modern woman this might bug me little bit, but a skilled man will lead his partner in such a way that she does not feel patronized or pushed around. Actually, there is a management concept called “lateral leadership” that totally matches the way a good male dancer should act. Wikipedia says: “Lateral leadership describes a situation of leadership without direct authority to issue instructions. […] Lateral leadership is mainly based on trust and understanding through the creation of a common framework of thought, in order to unite possibly different interests of the parties involved in a sustainable way. ” Heavy stuff, but if you think about it – this is exactly how, whilst dancing, a man should treat his partner: without giving explicit instructions, but simply by applying little nudges based on their common framework (the dance steps and variations they have learnt), the man can lead the woman to do what he wants (in this case: certain dance moves). In the end both partners can reach their common goal: to make it gracefully through the song without anybody getting hurt (this would be the “sustainable way”) and – ideally – without the lady feeling less independent.

Executive communication

Another thing that struck me as very fascinating was how  seamless the communication worked between me and my partner – without talking. You obviously cannot converse a lot while you are dancing because of the loud music and the fact that you have to concentrate on your own movements and the subtle nudges of your partner that are supposed to lead to nice variations. I actually enjoy shutting up and communicating on a non-verbal level only (since this is quite the opposite of what I do in my job and, basically, everywhere else). But it only works on the premise that both partners are sensitive to the signals their counterpart sends out: dancing is all about body language and picking up the little hints resulting from your counterparts posture, tensed muscles and maybe also facial expressions, which is why I was surprised how well it worked without any training at all. Coming to think of it, dancing with a partner for me contains all the features a good relationship should have: trust, equality, tension (the good kind of tension that fosters personal development), a common rhythm, shared interests and some level of non-verbal understanding. If you have all that with your partner, what can go wrong?

Teambuilding measures

When it comes to dancing, a man and a woman need to be a team. There is no way they can sweep over the dance floor without cooperating with each other. They need to laugh away little mistakes, listen to each other carefully and they must not get tired of starting all over again and again. So – to learn how to dance as a couple is, in my eyes, the best way to make two individual people feel united. And maybe the whole thing can also be scaled to more than just two people. Thinking about all the silly team building events and workshops I went through in the past years I cannot remember one single time where I thought: “Yes, this is something I am gonna pick up and use in real life.” Instead I have always felt that there must be a simpler, more natural way to create team spirit. Maybe the bits and pieces that you need to apply to dance your way through the night can be used to generate a sense of belonging together at the workplace as well: respectful, subtle and almost-not-noticable leadership, the concentration on and communication of common goals, a big portion of humor and the willingness to listen to what is being said between the lines. This should enable anybody to dance his or her way through the working day.

Anyway – I have already tried to get my colleagues to go salsa dancing with me. So far without success. But I will definitely do it more often again, because practice makes perfect and I am sure that I can only benefit from getting better. And what is better than learning from something that you love to do?

 

 

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