Saturday 18 March 2017

Tango and Leadership

On Friday, I went to a session on Tango and Leadership at Cumbria Coaching Network  led by Sue Cox. I nearly didn't go - I mean, me and dance... (ask my children...) 

But it was very valuable and very enjoyable (both to my surprise). I went partly because of my heightened awareness of shame as a blocker, due to Jacqui Sjenitzer's workshop - so thought I should ignore that and go anyway.

Not so much this...
Sue was excellent. She started with a brief introduction, including an explanation of the difference between show dances (precisely choreographed) and the kind of tango she is interested in (co-created in the moment, danced by two people who probably have never met before, in response to music that is not of their choosing and which they may not know, and in a crowded space, full of others also dancing...). She also set the context in terms of leadership: the fact that complexity, change and systemic interdependency mean that one can neither predict the future nor prescribe the response: one needs to co-create in the moment...
... more this

She also talked of her own experience: having got good at Tango in the UK, she went to Buenos Aires, and quickly realised that she had to unlearn a lot; and she then learned some wrong things by naive observation (stick your bottom out, for example). But the posture of Argentinian women dancing the tango is driven by their core, not by an intention to stick their bottom out: and that makes a huge difference.

And then we started to think about dancing. And again, Sue wrong-footed me, as it were, by saying the one thing we would not be doing was learning any steps. She demonstrated a few formal ballroom steps and asked if that was dancing: the way she did them, it clearly was not. Dance, she explained is something different - especially the kind of dance she is interested in.

So we started, instead, by truly connecting with ourselves - familiar stuff to those of us who have done any work with mindfulness. The next thing was to engage our core. Those who are familiar with Pilates, and most athletes, will know about the importance of the core muscles: that group of muscles including the abdominal muscles and the muscles around the bottom length of the spine. For me, it is the place from which I sing (when I am singing well), and indeed speak. Sue's point is that good dance movement originates from the core, and that legs and arms are free to move when the core is engaged and the focus of attention. The third thing we learned to attend to was our connection with the ground: pushing our feet into the ground, even as we engaged our core to allow our backs to lengthen and widen and our limbs to move freely.  I quickly found that I was moving quite differently; and also that my concerns about my two left feet seemed entirely irrelevant (which was very welcome).

What has all this to do with leadership? In Tango, this is what the leader - and also the follower - need to attend to before they are ready to dance. Sue described this as personal leadership - connecting with ourself, engaging with our core, and being properly grounded. The parallels with leadership in organisations are not merely metaphorical...

And then we moved on to consider how to lead and be led. Again, we did some interesting work on creating a connection that was energised; rather than just leading or being led, actually engaging with the other, with a true desire to do something creative together. That is something so visceral that you can tell the difference in the way your partner holds your arms. Then it is possible to project your intention by the smallest of movements, inviting the other to respond, either as you expect, or possibly in an unexpected but creative way, contributing to the co-creation of the dance, in response to the music. We practiced the difference between leading a truly engaged follower, one who might push back, as opposed to a passive follower who merely did what was expected, and how much more creative the process was with the engaged follower. Indeed the distinction between leader and follower often fell away, as both engaged in the co-creation of something that could not be choreographed in advance.

So that is the second set of connections with leadership: Connecting and Collaborating - and the notion that the quality of the relationship is at the heart of leading and being led. In fact, the Argentinians don't talk of leading and being led. The verb they prefer is marcar, which might literally be translated as to mark, but has the connotations of to suggest, invite, open up space for...  So the key issues were the importance of engaged connection, clear communication of intention, co-creation and mutual trust, and responding to the changing external stimuli; and again the parallels with leadership in organisations are not merely metaphorical...

We were running out of time (and puff - it was all surprisingly tiring) but had time for another set of brief reflections, about the language we use around leadership, and the interesting things that can happen when we use language (and thinking) that is not all about power.

I don't think I have quite done the session justice, but it was very good indeed. You can see Sue's TEDx talk on the subject here:

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