Tango: 6 lessons for Leadership

Most business professionals come to coaching because they want to be amazing leaders, regardless of their level. In the past few years the business world started agreeing on the definition of leadership with the help of popular names in the field like Simon Sinek, Marshall Goldsmith, Robin Sharma among others – the essence of leadership is how well we connect with others and we know that that’s the difference that makes the difference. Once we do that the rest is business as usual.
As coaches we love to work with leaders who want to achieve business success through connecting with their teams, inspiring them, have a calling for being an authentic leader and ready to do the work needed. Argentine tango is a great analogy for authentic leadership, and it guides us well.

I know why they say, ‘it takes two to tango’ and not cha cha or foxtrot. In tango, you cannot make even the first move unless you ‘feel’ your partner – it is about them more than the knowledge of the dance itself, steps, angles and etc. Just like leadership – business knowledge can guide you only up to a certain level and you get stuck sooner or later unless you tune into others.

One clarification about the roles before we dive into analogies – ‘Leader’ is the one who is in charge of the dance and ‘Follower’ follows the Leader. However, Follower is not necessarily passive. Also, if you have been to a tango show you will realise that the Leader is not always a man and the Follower is not always a woman so do not get stuck with gender roles.

Tune into the Follower enough and meet them where they are to catch a balance.
As a Leader, if you shoot off with your own objectives you will end up alone without any Followers. In order to move together you need to lean into others. The Leader has to ‘listen’ to the Follower in order to lead. Also, the Leader has to lead with an ‘intention’ that can be read by the Follower.

If you stop surprising your Follower they get bored and start leading you.
If a team member is not challenged enough, they get bored and their work becomes a repetitive task. This leads to low motivation, less responsiveness and low performance. In tango, every surprise keeps the Follower on their toes and makes them think they need to remain alert to receive the next surprise. Of course, it is the Leader who needs to find the ‘just right’ point for surprises/challenges by tuning into the Follower. Leader will want the Follower to stay engaged while challenging them.

It is the body (language) that speaks not the words.
‘Actions speak louder than words’ is I guess obvious to everyone but how much do we integrate that into our every day? Walking the talk, confidence, being grounded and having a purpose – they all manifest themselves in actions/posture and give confidence – both in the Leader and the Follower.

Little recovery time and need for resilience.
If someone takes your pictures whilst you are dancing, you are expected to look perfect – there is little room for mistakes in Tango (and mistakes happen when you stop tuning into each other). The time for recovery is quite limited and you need to be resilient enough to catch-up with the rhythm. It is going back to basics and keeping the pace with your Follower that helps you recover when you are dancing, like good Leaders do in business – they bounce back together with their teams.

If you are used to practicing other dances, you need to unlearn them first and try harder to adapt.
During tango, habits from other dances look like a ‘bad habit’. Similarly, if one would like to be a good Leader they need to let go of old habits. As professionals, we sometimes develop habits without realising. In order to change and learn new ones we need to get rid of other muscles we developed before. If you have been a manager taking care of day to day operational duties what do you need to unlearn to become a Leader?

A note for the Followers: A good Follower can empower the Leader.
Being a Follower does not necessarily mean being passive and just doing what the Leader ‘says’. Giving enough resistance/challenge during tango can be valuable feedback for the Leader, helping them to guide with more purpose.

Tango instructors say that one can master dancing in about 6 months if you work hard, which leads me to think how true it is that you need to invest time and energy to develop a skill. Do not stop developing your ‘Good Leadership’ muscle, until it becomes a reflex!

Melda Ekmen is a People Effectiveness Coach at Mira Consulting & Coaching https://www.linkedin.com/in/meldaekmen/

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