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The Dance of a Leader
By Brian J. Wagner
NAPS Immediate Past President
I love to dance, which is probably why I am a big fan of “Dancing with the Stars.” I can’t resist hitting the dance floor when great music is playing, even if I can’t find a dance partner. Therefore, at times, solo I must go.
However, it wasn’t too long ago after coming off the dance floor to hydrate (wink-wink) during a NAPS social, that I was asked a very deep, philosophical question from a member who also was getting some hydration. How would I best compare various dance styles to leadership? Here’s the scoop!
First, full disclosure. I took dance lessons in my younger years—ballet, tap, jazz and ballroom. In my early 20s, I danced with the Peoria Civic Ballet Company and performed in “The Nutcracker” ballet. However, if I tried any of those ballet moves today in my retirement years, it would be called “The Back Cracker.” However, back to the topic at hand.
Dance, like leadership, has been part of our culture for years. The different styles of dance include, but are not limited to, ballet, ballroom, jazz, tap, salsa and street, to name a few. When you think about it, a leader is like a dancer.
Just like a dancer, a leader must stay focused and make the right steps when addressing a situation or making a decision. So, let’s compare dance and leadership moves. I pulled quite a few of the following descriptions from the internet. Fortunately, I did it without pulling a dance muscle.
The first leadership dance is ballet. It’s an art form created by movement of the human body. It can tell a story or express a thought, concept or emotion. A leader must be like a ballet dancer—being on their toes, ready to leap into action at the right time and lift up those they lead with strong thought, concept and emotional leadership skills.
Ballet can be magical, exciting, provoking and disturbing, as well. A leader must sometimes work magic by digging deep into their skills, experience and knowledge to excite others to a higher level of achievement. They sometimes may need to provoke and disturb the status quo by thinking outside the box.
The next dance is jazz. This dance is high-energy, with liveliness that also features improvisation. A leader, at times, must bring that high energy and improvisation to situations where they may need to coach, mentor and energize others. A leader may need to jazz things up so team members can become more creative in their thoughts as they seek a higher level of success for themselves and those on their team. This style may occur during branch meetings, training seminars, state conventions or during NAPS national conventions.
Then there is tap dancing. Tap is a unique style of dance involving specific and rapid footwork. The dancer’s foot and shoe essentially act as a drum; each part of the shoe makes a particular beat and sound. A leader must be like a tap dancer—not to “tap dance” around difficult situations, but to be quick on their feet in thought when it comes to handling challenging situations.
This leader dances to the beat and sound of a drum in thought and strategy. They are not swayed from their obligations or principles. With this leadership style, a person can instill confidence in others to do the same—dance to the beat of their own drum of thought.
To heat things up there is Salsa. This dance is energetic and a fun partner dance. Unlike some partner dances, Salsa is very sociable. In fact, it is common for salseros to dance with people they never before have met. That’s part of the fun of Salsa.
That, too, is the fun part about being a Salsa-type leader. They use the energy derived from their leadership skills to find opportunities to engage with people they never before have met to expand and diversify their social network and business opportunities.
You probably have heard being “street smart.” There also is street dance. Characteristics and key elements that make up street dancing are groove, character, originality, intention, creativity and social interaction. In essence, the personality of a leader.
Each leader is their own original. When they find their groove and use their street smarts, combined with other learned leadership skills, they will interact socially with others with the intention to seek creative and positive results.
Then there is ballroom dance, with many different dance styles. Arguably, the five most popular ballroom dances in the world are waltz, swing, rumba, cha cha and foxtrot. Dancers proficient in these five styles can dance with partners from anywhere in the world. The old “one, two, three, one, two, three” is the rhythm sound of the waltz. If I had to choose a dance style that epitomizes true ballroom-style leadership, it’s the waltz. Why?
The waltz is a partner dance, using step patterns that move rhythmically, expressing the characteristics of music. Ballroom dancing consists of two styles: the smooth, or standard, and the rhythm, or Latin. The former focuses on the elegance, grace and fluidity of movement.
A leader can’t lead if no one is willing to follow, just as having a partner in ballroom dance is required. That partner or partners may be a member or members of an association or executive board, or stakeholders to which the leader must conduct business, to name just a few.
To keep their partners engaged, a leader must be smooth in their leadership skills, moving gracefully and with fluidity as they deal with various individuals, business partners, third parties or when handling challenging situations for which a decision is to be made.
The waltz is a good example of this leadership. In the waltz, the one who leads is confident, with their head up high, chest out, arms firmly stretched holding their partner’s hand as the leader gracefully and confidently glides their partner across the ballroom floor. The “one, two, three, one, two, three” rhythm of waltz music is nothing more than the leader keeping things simple for all to easily follow, including those with whom they have a partnership.
Metaphorically, those who follow know they can reach out to their leader with confidence. When it’s time to make a turn, such as on the dance floor, it’s the leader who provides direction. The partner must have trust in their leader and the leader must be able to instill trust in their partner or partners so they know and understand that any change in direction will lead to smooth and graceful steps forward for the betterment of all.
Whether you are a dancer, leader or both, be your own choreographer with your own style, as in career, leadership and life. Henry David Thoreau once said: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
Therefore, step, dance, think, work, believe, live and enjoy life to the beat of your own drum. Now that the leadership rhythm has got you and me, too, I will leap right to my ice-cream-flavor-of-the-month recommendation: Oreo drumstick.