You might be the kind of person who’s terrified to dance badly in a crowd of strangers, let alone step out on the dance floor where people can actually see you.
You may be the kind of person who feels they have two (or more!) left feet, or maybe you take to the dance floor like a bird to the air; either way, what you are is a leader. We’re all leaders. You don’t have to own your own business or be in a position of management – whether it’s working on a project with co-workers, having fun with friends, or helping our own families, we all have opportunities to lead and influence others.
One place that’s crawling with leaders is the dance floor. As a former Salsa instructor, going out for a night of dancing might not seem like a place to learn leadership skills, but with Salsa (and any kind of partner dance), there’s some assigned roles: the Lead and the Follow.
The Leads (traditionally guys) decide what moves to perform, and the Follows (traditionally women) read the movements and go along with it to make it work. First time Leads, are thrown into a leadership role they might not have expected. When you just start out, it’s tough. I never did any dancing as a kid, and getting out there and being responsible for another person can be intimidating.
Whether you dance or not, there’s some leadership lessons to take away from the dance floor and apply it to the rest of your life.
Here are 5 leadership lessons you can learn from dancing:
1. Adjust on the fly
Sometimes things don’t go our way. We can try to force it to work, or we can roll with the punches and adjust. In Salsa, if you’re a Lead, this can take the form of doing a move you thought would work and it doesn’t. Maybe you made a mistake, or maybe your dance partner has just never done that kind of move before.
It’s not the end of the world. You can improvise instead, and a move that didn’t work turns into a new one that does.In real life, maybe you have a business plan that doesn’t work exactly the way you want it to, or maybe you’re just trying to get your friends out to a bar and it falls through.
How can you adapt and turn it to your advantage?
“Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.” – Miguel Angel Ruiz
2. It’s about creating comfort and challenge
Nothing can hurt a relationship more than making people feel awkward and uncomfortable. Make people feel comfortable, and they’ll want to be around you. With Salsa, no one wants to dance with a partner who makes them feel uneasy.
Some people make their partner feel uncomfortable because they’re being creepy and sexually aggressive, or because the moves they’re doing hurt. Others though make their dance partners uncomfortable because they throw moves at them that are way above their level. That creates a huge gap.
The person sees how far it is to the other side, and mentally (or physically) walks away. Too big of a gap and we don’t want to cross it. But if the gap is smaller it becomes a challenge, and they’ll rise up and do their best to leap across. After jumping across lots of small gaps, the huge one won’t seem so big after all.
3. It’s about clear communication
You can tell people any message you want, but if it’s unclear it won’t get through to them the way you want it to. In Salsa if the Lead tries a move that isn’t communicated clearly, the Follow may move in an unexpected way, or not at all.
Our bodies communicate more than our words ever can. People may not consciously pay attention to your body, but they still hear what it says. Good Leads make sure their body is saying what they want it to.
If they stand and move with confidence, their partner will feel it and follow smoothly. The Follow will also feel any insecurity, and her steps will be less sure as a result.
4. Take the opportunity…If it’s right
Sometimes we take too long thinking about an opportunity and we miss it. If you’re out dancing, you may see someone across the room you want to dance with. Maybe you go for it right away, but maybe you don’t. Maybe you have to think about it.
Maybe you have to work yourself up first, and you have to position yourself to get ahead of everyone else who wants to as well. It’s ok. You can wait until the next song. If it looks like a good opportunity, don’t wait too long, or it might be gone forever. If you do miss the opportunity, don’t sweat it.
There’s never just one. There’s a whole room of opportunities if you take the time to look for them.
“Opportunity dances with those already on the dance floor.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
5. The best leads also follow
The best Leads and Follows know that the roles are fluid. Sometimes your partner does something unexpected; you can either ignore what they did, or you can follow the Follow’s movements and make it into something wonderful.
Learning both roles, the best, know the challenges their partners’ face. Instead of issuing blind commands, they can empathize with them and make win/win decisions rather than win/lose. There’s no shame in learning about a different role other than your own.
If you only have half the picture, you’re missing valuable information. It may be uncomfortable to step outside of what you know, but when you know the whole picture you can Lead that much better.
No matter what walk of life you’re in, it’s importance to recognize the influence you have with others. You’re already a leader – it’s time to step up to it.