I want to write about leadership. However, one of my biggest struggles with my writing is explaining how I see leadership. Talk about frustrating!!

If you read my last post, W.W.A.D., you know my definition of leadership. A leader is someone who takes responsibility for their world, trusting in their ability to respond to whatever life throws their way.

In my mind this makes perfect sense. However, if you challenged me on what this meant I often struggle to clarify what the words mean. The real challenge, is many of the attributes of this statement are not something you can learn from a book. So let me share a recent experience I had which will help to explain.

The dance

Think of a time you were dancing with someone and moving around the floor without saying a word to each other. Together you moved to the rhythm of the music. When others came and crowded your space, you just moved in a different direction. No words needed to be exchanged, and somehow, you’re just flowing together to the music.

I often refer to powerful leadership experiences as doing a dance. Sometimes you’re dancing with a co-leader and other times with your followers. You’re moving together, without worry and knowing things are exactly as they’re meant to be.

Recently I co-lead an executive leadership workshop with Julie Zuzek. Julie is a friend of mine, and also a powerful leader/coach.

In this workshop, we created an experience in which we were not able to predict or control what happened. We had a plan for the day and talked about what might happen. However, anything could happen when you then bring in the people. We needed to take responsibility for our world. After that all we could do is to respond powerfully to whatever showed up.

Julie and I had an incredible day. The dance Julie and I did that day, might be described as being in flow with each other. Although both our voices were in the room, it’s as if it was only one as we went back and forth between us. When things changed direction we just went with it together without any hesitation.

For example, we took the group through an exercise in which we needed the participants to talk about their most natural temperaments and behaviours. It meant facilitating a conversation with 70 people, drawing out answers based on their context and experience. You cannot control what they’re going to say or do and all you can do is to create from whatever happens.

If Julie and I were not in this leadership dance, it’s possible she may have zigged while I zagged. This could have resulted in conflict between us, created confusion in the room and would have lowered the value we delivered that day.

At no time during the day did I worry about Julie, question if I’m doing the right thing, nor get stressed about anything that was happening. In talking with Julie after, she had the same experience.

The outcome on that day exceeded our expectations. The 70 executives dove in and did some courageous work. I know they are going to have a very real impact on the people who work for them. I’m excited to see where this team takes it next.

What if …

When I think about the dance Julie and I were in that day, I know it was one of the reasons we had an impact. The dance itself actually extended beyond the two of us. Our dance extended to our assistants and the participants.

What if all leaders were in a similar dance with their followers? Powerful leaders don’t see themselves as above or better than their team. Instead, they see themselves as being in service of their followers creating the conditions to allow for the dance to happen.

When leaders see themselves as better than their teams, the dance is not possible. Instead several dysfunctions emerge like order taking, micro-management, towers of power, doing things out of obligation, fear and much more. Often this is a cultural norm, and can be very difficult to see beyond.

Let’s go back to the question of what if leaders were dancing with their followers? I could make a long list of what might be possible. To start the team will find ways to improve their world every day. It’s what happens when everyone is taking responsibility for their world. This will have a significant impact on the outcomes the team produces.

More importantly, though, is the people will feel alive and valued. They will start feeling as if they’re seen as whole and will bring all they are to everything they do. When this happens, much like my dance with Julie, the impact you will have together will be incredible.

Truthfully, you will never fully know the impact of helping those around you feel alive.

Learning to dance

When I think about what made my dance with Julie possible, I can only point back to the leadership lessons I learned from Art (see W.W.A.D?). Committing to a life of purpose, wanting to have an impact every day, loving all parts of me, trusting the winds will take me exactly where I’m meant to be, and all the other lessons I hold close.

Things don’t always go as good as they did the other day in that workshop. However, what I cannot know is how even the smallest impacts will ripple out into big things. In other words, I believe I always have an impact no matter how my day goes.

Learning how to dance like this meant looking deep inside me. I have developed a continual thirst for understanding myself better. Every time I learn something about myself, the more I want to learn.

Learning about myself has helped me let go of worrying about what other people think of me. More importantly, it means accepting myself for who I am. All of me. It’s knowing what’s important to me, and the ways in which I sabotage my own efforts. It’s committing to never stop going deeper.

Dancing is such a beautiful and powerful expression of life. At times you’ll feel like you have two left feet, and others you will feel as if leadership is effortless.

However, when we do this dance together we can change the world in ways we may never know.

Let’s dance.