Finding your groove as a leader requires practice

At an early age, I was introduced to dance and music classes. Throughout my professional career, I’ve associated my leadership style with the lessons learned in those classes as a child. 

For me, being an effective leader is like being a skilled dancer. You must master the four fundamentals of dance — space, time, levels and force. As a leader, my biggest learning has been being able to dance with whomever and whatever comes to me on the dance floor.

Rising through the ranks in becoming the leader presents its own special dance. Transitioning from dancing behind the lead dancer to becoming the lead dancer — who’s responsible for creating the choreography/strategy — while leading and training new backup dancers/employees has been an interesting journey. 

Finding my groove as a leader required many rehearsals and application of those four fundamentals of dance. Dance is an art form focused on creating a performance that is transient and fluid. Effective leadership is an art; leaders must maintain their brand, yet remain flexible, open to change and a visionary to stay relevant.

  •   Space in dance is the way the dancer moves through and interacts with the physical world in the variations of movement from sideways, forward, backward and diagonally. In the course of leadership, these movements are called strategic planning, forecasting and critical thinking.
  •   Time in dance is the synchronization of movement to music defining tempo and rhythm of the dance. Leaders must gauge their timing in the management of people — when to have those difficult conversations, or when to have conversations of compassion, when to take risks and when to say no.
  •   Levels in dance consist of high, medium and low; these levels pertain to the energy and the movement of the dance. In leadership, you will experience success, status quo periods and failures. Staying grounded, understanding ebbs and flows and using any failure as an opportunity to learn something new is key to a leader’s resiliency. 
  •   Force is when dance partners express the same motion in different timing and rhythm to make a powerful impression. As a leader, your greatest impact is the development of a community that advocates for your mission from either the perspective of receiving the benefits or from providing assistance to help achieve the mission.

Bringing together these diverse sectors of community is an orchestrated move that resembles getting a dance performance together. You are the choreographer and the lead dancer. As the leader, you have to demonstrate the routine and get everyone to visualize the story of the dance in order for them to perform with the right energy.

To be an effective leader, all of your support team, your board members, staff and volunteers need to see, understand and grab hold of your vision in order for them to give their optimal performance.  

Leadership is like dance. From a waltz to hip hop, it’s all about having the right energy and rhythm to dance with whomever and whatever comes to you on the dance floor.

Melony Butler is executive director at Dress for Success Cleveland