Welcome to the Dance

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silver disco ball

You’re walking through the halls of your workplace offices, as you do every day, and you see that people are quietly keeping at their work and looking rather productive. You turn the corner and find two employees in a conversation, and as you get closer you realize they are actually in a bit of a heated discussion. You don’t want to pry, so you turn around and head back to your office.

Let’s face it, confrontation is not your strong suit, and you really aren’t in the mood right now to settle a workplace dispute. Plus, these are adults. They can figure it out, right?

But why are they arguing in the first place? You’re a good, strong leader. You should have seen this coming. What happened? Do you need to be stricter with policy? Do you need to get in and manage more acutely? Or have you not been paying enough attention to your people and the company as a whole?

It could be all of these things, or it could be none of them. But one thing’s for sure. You need to get a better grasp of what is going on in and around your people because your and their success depends on it.

I’d like to present a comparison scenario that you may be familiar with from back in high school. I’m talking about the high school dance. And specifically, one particular person at the dance – the chaperon.

As a leader, you need to act like a chaperon at the high school dance.

You need to be observant of what is happening on the dancefloor and on the periphery. You need to be in the thick of it and above the crowd. But you can’t be in both places at the same time, so what can you do?

Before we get into the distribution of time allocated to these two leader perspectives, let’s take a deeper dive into the concept of leading like a chaperon.

You might have never thought of it, but your workplace shares many similarities with a high school dance. Don’t believe me? Consider these commonalities.

At work, you have a large group of people who come together for a specific purpose, but they don’t all live together when they go home. Same for the dance.

At work, you have people who work in teams and form close relationships and even create cliques inviting some, while shunning others. Same thing happens at the dance.

At work, you have some folks who are better performers and producers, while others are less skilled and need prompting and training. And as we all know, some people can show off all the latest dance moves while others have two left feet.

Oh, and let’s not forget about those instigators who love to complain about everything and find it entertaining to poison the culture. At the dance, that’s the guy who sneaks in a bottle and spikes the punch.

As you can see, there are many similarities between our beloved workplace and the cherished high school dance.

And you, as the leader of your workplace, hold many of the same responsibilities as the chaperon at this dance.

Some of your time needs to be spent on the dancefloor. When you’re on the dancefloor, you will find yourself in the middle of it all. You may feel overwhelmed with so many couples moving about trying to keep step and keep pace. This is akin to the plethora of projects your teams are managing.

On the dancefloor, you need to be aware of each couple (i.e. project), looking for hand placement, closeness, and other dancefloor no-nos (i.e. harassment, favoritism, and scope creep).

All the while, providing feedback, making adjustments, and monitoring performance. And if that weren’t enough, you also need to be sure to watch your own feet, so you don’t get tangled up in the flow of dancers (i.e. micromanaging their efforts).

Now that you’ve gotten a good feeling for the vibe on the dancefloor, let’s take a step outside the fray and see what’s happening from the perspective of the balcony.

It’s important to pull yourself out of the daily whirlwind occasionally so you can see patterns and trends more clearly. Getting out of the hustle and bustle allows for a clearer, more objective perspective.

So what can you do while on the balcony?

From this vantage point, you observe the flow of dancers on and off the floor, you look for wallflowers who aren’t getting invited or involved in the dance. And you definitely keep a close eye on the punchbowl, ensuring some punk doesn’t try to poison the party with his own brand of fun and engagement.

The balcony is where you go to reflect on KPIs, OKRs, and other success metrics. It’s where you go to evaluate satisfaction, analyze financials, and formulate strategy. It’s where you go to envision your future and the company’s future.

Each perspective is critical to your success as a leader and the success of the company and its people. Spend too much time on the dancefloor and people will tire of your overly zealous management style. Spend too much time in the balcony and people will resent your ivory tower management approach. Striking the right balance is the key to being a good chaperon and a great leader.

So how much time do you spend in each position? As you might have guessed, the 80/20 rule reigns supreme once again.

As a leader, you should probably spend about eighty percent of your time on the dancefloor and twenty percent in the balcony. This ratio provides a good balance of time spent monitoring and managing execution and production, while also ensuring ample time to analyze patterns, devise strategy, and strengthen company culture.

So how will you decide how to spend your time on the dancefloor ensuring people are on task, doing the right things, providing feedback and coaching? How will you decide to spend your time in the balcony taking that bird’s-eye view ensuring culture and strategy are on point and fueling the business? And how will you decide to embrace your role as chaperon of your workplace dance party?

Let’s face it, being the chaperon won’t win you any prizes, but it will allow you to see things up close and pitch in where needed, while also providing you time and space to focus on vision and strategy.

Your Mindful Moment:

Great leaders know when to monitor action on the dancefloor, and when to expand strategic perspective from the balcony.

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