So you think you can lead?

Sep 14 2012 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

Not too long ago I was watching the TV show, "So you think you can dance", where contestants vie to become the winner in what is a weekly "dance-off" competition. The contestants dance solo and in pairs depending on the night's agenda. They're very good.

So, on that night, one of the judges was responding to one contestant's relationship to his partner in a hip-hop routine where an "emotional, contentious dynamic" between the pair was built into the storyline of their dance.

When the couple completed their routine, the male of the pair maintained a scowl, a macho "I-have-control-over-you!" non-verbal persona as he and his partner walked forward to center stage to receive the judges' feedback. As he approached, his scowl melted. He and his partner embraced and one could feel the energy of their connecting.

When it was time to respond to the male, one of the judges remarked, and I'm paraphrasing, "You have all the technical skills that make you an excellent dancer in just about any type of dance genre you engage. What you need to do is not lose sight of the emotional connection to your partner. And it's your emotional connection, not your technical expertise, that determines the energy of your relationship, the deeper connection between you and your partner and provides the chemistry that makes the dance 'work.' And you have that emotional connection in spades; it's very apparent, and that's why you're sensational."

At that moment, it struck me that the same description also applies to what makes for a successful, even sensational leader.

"The journey between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place." - Barbara De Angelis

Dancing With Your Employees

In today's face-paced, challenging and uncertain economic climate, stress is rampant and anxiety and fear seem to be the emotions of choice driving many leaders' behaviors. More and more leaders seem to be losing touch with their employees, fostering a climate where poor morale, dis-engagement, absenteeism, presenteeism, stress, overt or silent anger and resentment abound.

A key reason for this is that many leaders (and managers) are severing their emotional ties to their workforce - assuming they had any emotional ties to begin with. They're leading their employees and if they are "dancing" with their employees, it's all technical and tactical Ė there's no emotional connection.

Competencies, skills, talent, intellect, technical knowledge, expertise and drive define many of today's leaders. But, that's not enough.

Technology is not Sufficient

In the face of challenging times, many organizations rush to put into place a technically efficient leader, the "numbers guy", the "turnaround artist", the "visionary" - leaders who may be technically savvy, but who are clueless when it comes to people skills and who lack the emotional maturity and competence to truly lead.

These leaders, many of who are young and ambitious, lack a "whole-life" experience and are stunted in their adult, emotional development. As far as the bottom line or the strategic plan are concerned, these leaders may be delivering, but they are at risk, as are their organizations, their departments and their teams. As technicians, these leaders are more focused on their own self in the dance, their part, their personal achievement and recognition. In essence, the dance, for them, is a solo effort.

The downside of their emotional disconnection is that unconsciously or consciously, they tend to push their partner away. They generate internal conflict and competition when there could (should?) be compromise, collaboration and cooperation. They reject and repel their colleagues, their peers, their direct reports, even those who are even more skilled than they are and whose partnership they need in order to succeed. Eventually, when they come center stage for feedback, they are asked to leave the stage. They thought they could lead; technically they could, but it wasn't enough.

The Antidote to "Technology-Only"


  • When it comes to "dancing" at work, do you always feel the need to lead? What would it be like to follow?
  • Do you always need to be center stage, in the limelight? If so, why?
  • Would you describe yourself as emotionally mature? How do you know? What would others say? Would you ask them?
  • Do you tend to be "officious", "all-business" or aloof in your relationships at work?
  • Do you have a need to be "right?" Would you generally prefer to be right than be happy? Do you ever gang up on or bully others? If so, why?
  • Would you consider yourself "well-rounded?" Would others agree with you?
  • Do you consider your boss(es) to be emotionally mature? Why, or why not?
  • Did you learn about emotional maturity as you were growing up? How so? Was it a pleasant or painful experience?
  • Can you envision a world where emotional maturity is a common attribute for most people?

For those leaders who are in the spotlight, or wish to be, here are some suggestions that can enhance your dance and have your judges asking for an encore:

Take the time to learn to lead "people." Technical skills are not enough. Use the support of a qualified coach or mentor who can support you to understand the tasks AND the personal aspects of workplace relationships.

Learn to take risks and experience failure as an opportunity through which self-reflection becomes a stepping stone to emotional learning and development.

Consciously and self-responsibly explore any tenuous relationships you have with others and search for root-cause issues that foster such relationships. Ask for a qualified coach to support you in your exploration.

Leave your ego at the door and work to eliminate behaviors that are characterized as arrogant, bullying, aloof, or emotionally or verbally abusive. Again, seek the support of a coach or trusted friend or colleague who can help you in this endeavor.

Learn how to connect emotionally, authentically, as a human being, not just "officially" in a business context. To be professional and effective in these changing times requires a "greater humanity" - that is the capacity to conduct business with an open, compassionate and intelligent heart.

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.