Those of you who follow me on Facebook will likely know that I co-facilitated a session for the AM/PM MBA program at Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto this week. The program was designed by my friend, Dr. Edy Greenblatt who is an adjunct professor in the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking at Rotman. The purpose of the session was to kick off the second semester of their first year in the program with establishing new teams. Our role – among Edy, myself, and tango masters Miguel and Michelle Coppini (Michelle also being a professor at Humber’s School of Business) – was to convey ideas about teams, team dynamics, and team leadership through the embodied experience of a variety of world dances, including tango and casino rueda.
Through the three-hour program, we looked at issues of cooperation, collaboration, trust, expertise, and guidance. As the dance forms became more challenging (tango and casino), we particularly examined the relationship between leaders and followers. It is partially true that without followers there would be no leaders. However, we also demonstrated that the lead can be emergent depending on the situation, and that a person is able change roles from leader to follower and vice versa based on circumstances, availability of information, and knowledge.
What is vitally important – both in a team or organizational situation and on the dance floor proper – is that both partners listen to each other, even if the listening is done through the physical cues of a dance lead. It is true that, in most cases, the dance lead suggests a particular pattern or combination of elements that choreograph the music. However, if the lead is not well connected to the follow, or is not paying attention to how the follow is responding, or is so caught up with their own plan in their head, the planned move will not be able to be executed by the follow.
A great leader, whether it’s in a team or workplace, or whether it’s on the dance floor, will follow their follower. They will respond moment by moment to how the follower responds to them, and modify their plan according to where everyone is in that moment. It’s easy to dance by yourself (especially if you dance like nobody’s looking, as the tired cliche goes). However, it’s being able to create a cohesive and creative collaboration with others that is the mark of a great participant, be it in workplaces, dances, or any other endeavour, regardless of whether you are the nominal leader or the nominal follower.