Dancing and Leading in the Dark

In traditional ballroom dancing when couples pair up, the man is the leader. I know that statement has some inherent flaws in 2017. For example, what if a same-sex couple is dancing, then who leads? Who made the rule that men always lead in a dance anyway? These are valid objections, but for the moment, let’s stay with the “tradition” – right or wrong.

Last year my husband and I were invited to a dance party sponsored by a local dance studio. The evening included a dance lesson for the attendees – all happened to be traditional, heterosexual couples. The lesson began with the couples lining up – men in one line and women in the other. After practicing basic moves with the partner you arrived with, the men were asked to switch to the next woman in the line for the next set – just as my husband and I were getting into a rhythm. This switching continued every five or ten minutes. 

It was interesting practicing with different partners and it took some serious concentration. Not every partner was as comfortable as the last, and one was particularly challenging for me. He towered over my five-foot frame and danced with a bravado and gusto that matched his over six-foot frame. He’d twirl me out at arm’s length– his arm’s length, not mine – causing me to almost twist my knee on a number of occasions. I noticed that his wife was much taller than me – almost equal in height to him – so these moves must have worked well for them. They certainly didn’t for me. He was making no effort to adjust to a new partner.

Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey based their situational leadership model on the theory that instead of using just one style, successful leaders change their leadership styles based on factors such as the situation, the details of the task, and their relationships with the people they are leading. This means that a good leader will take a different approach to fit the situation or task or when they are working with different individuals. I wished that my challenging dance partner had applied this theory when he danced with me. While the task (dancing) didn’t change, his partner (me) and the situation (my height versus his wife’s height) did and he didn’t take the opportunity to assess these changes nor adjust his style. I graciously excused myself before the set was over. In a business setting, this might not have been possible. 

Recently we attended an event entitled “Dancing in the Dark” to support The Foundation for Blindness.  After dinner, attendees were invited to a group dance lesson where they danced while blindfolded. While I appreciate the challenges that the visually impaired face, after my last experience with a group dance lesson, I was skeptical about dancing in the dark with a stranger – especially when neither of us can assess the situation and make adjustments. I’d like the opportunity to introduce myself to each new partner and provide some details about my physical characteristics. This would certainly provide the opportunity to assess the new situation and the individual involved. 

While dancing in the dark may be an interesting experiment to educate the sighted world about the reality in which the visually impaired live, leaders can’t be “in the dark” when they lead. They have to be informed of the facts and aware of the situations and the people around them if they want to be effective. They have to know who and what they are leading!

Leaders can’t make assumptions without the facts. I admit, I was guilty of this when I assumed I’d have to dance in the dark with strangers. It turns out that I danced with my husband while, like everyone else dancing, bumping into other couples on the dance floor. And the experience was “eye-opening!”

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