Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Stage Presence: How Dance is Like Leadership

My daughter and I are dancers.  As my daughter prepares for re-entering dance as a big part of her life, I am reflecting on dance and what it has meant for us.

When I danced much more seriously than I do now, I remembered every step.  I was usually placed in front of the class or stage.  I was selected for ballet exams.  I was selected for a performing group.  Every style I tried, I learned with ease.  I was technically a good dancer.

My daughter was also selected for ballet exams, remembered her steps, and was selected to be a dance teacher assistant.  She tried many styles of dance and was good at all of them.  But here's the difference.  She had stage presence.  This made her a much better dancer.

When my daughter stepped onto the stage, she was a performer.  She had an amazing smile and tilt of her head.  She had expression.  Her passion and desire for the dance made the audience feel like time stood still.  She knew how to engage the audience with her presence.  It didn't matter if she made a technical error or that one of the other girls was technically better.  She shone and continues to shine on stage.

As a teenager, she has no idea what this has to do with leadership.  As a leader and a person who teaches leadership, I see some connections, and here are four:

Love.  She loves dance.  She loves what she's doing.  She'd perform every day if she could.  She'd dance all day long.  She isn't working on making a smile on her face... she really is smiling!  The engagement of the audience isn't something she purposefully made happen... she really is engaging.

Practice.  As with any kind of performance, you have to practice your dance routine.  A lot.  It takes hours of commitment, many mistakes, and sometimes painful feet.  And, yeah, sometimes tears.  To become that person on stage that has the technical excellence as well as the presence, you go further, you dance more, and you make the practice a priority in your life.

Questioning.  When she missed a class, she had to ask someone to help her know the steps.  When she was not bending far enough into a plié, she had to ask her teacher how she could master the depth required to perform better in exams.  If she was practicing on stage and she wasn't in line with everyone else, she had to ask where she was supposed to stand.  Dance is not a solo act.

Authenticity.  This is what made my daughter a better dancer.  We both loved, practiced, and questioned.  That made both of us good dancers.  But she stands out because of her authenticity. She has her own style.  She realizes her dream and lets go of inhibitions.  For a year or two, she lost this... having normal teenage fears.  But when she is her most authentic self, time stands still as she glides across the stage.... bringing tears to this mamas eyes! ;)

So where's the connection with leadership?  

Love.  The best leaders love their work and the contribution they are making to the people they lead. They have a great passion for contributing to society and the world.  To lead well, that passion is natural.  A great leader needs to find that love and follow it.

Practice.  Excellence in leadership is practiced for many years.  It takes making a lot of mistakes and learning from them.  It takes a continual effort at improving and practicing leadership skills.  You don't start out at 3 years old as a prima ballerina.  It starts with music and movement.  You have to get the basic steps mastered before you can  move on to performing on stage without error (don't you love the 3- and 4-year old performers, though?!).  Some say leaders are born, others say they are made.  I say, you can have a natural ability to lead, but you have to practice and make mistakes and be open to learning how to do it better in order to be excellent.  I also say that in your practice, you need to let others be right and try things on that you may not believe is right.  This allows a leader to see others' perspectives and be able to lead different people better.  You go further.  You are not satisfied with a good job.  You want to make a difference and make the biggest difference you can.

Questioning.  One of the biggest fears of many leaders is that someone will find out they don't know the answer.  If you've ever felt this, you are NOT alone!  A great leader questions.  They know they do not have all the answers, and they let others know.  They are good leaders.  Not encyclopedias (or, for the younger generation, Google:).  When they are stuck, they seek answers from others.  When they don't have the expertise, they find someone who does.  They collaborate.  And they ask questions to everyone, no matter what their position or title.  The team they lead will be asked to contribute their individual knowledge, skills, and unique attributes.  This not only makes the leader a better leader, but it engages the team.

Authenticity.  People can feel if something is forced or 'faked'.  If a leader is not being truthful with him or herself, they will not be authentic with others.  This takes work for many.  Knowing yourself is the key for excellence in leadership and for engaging your team.  A leader typically does not make it to that role without the technical knowledge and skills required.  But without exploring who you are, how you can make an impact, and what your unique style is, you may technically be a good leader, but you probably aren't bringing tears to the audience's eyes.

If you are looking for stage presence in your leadership, contact Tina at tina@pomroy.ca about the Business Buddha Leadership Coaching program or the Mindful Management Program for managers and leaders of any group or business.

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