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“Life is like dancing. If we have a big floor, many people will dance. Some will get angry when the rhythm changes. But life is changing all the time.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

Not too long ago I was watching the TV show, “So you think you can dance,” a show 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.

The Emotional Connection
So, on that night, one of the judges was discussing 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.”

Hmmm, I thought, can’t that same description apply 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, often-ambiguous and uncertain economic climate, where 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. Why? 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 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
What’s happening in the face of challenging times is a rush to put into place the technically efficient leader, the “numbers guy,” the “turnaround artist,” the “visionary,” etc., and in the process many organizations are experiencing the fallout from leaders who are technically savvy but who are clueless when it comes to “people” skills, 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. These leaders are “leading,” perhaps, 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.”

The downside of the emotional disconnection is: unconsciously or consciously, they tend to push their “partner” away -generating 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 as, or more, skilled and whose partnership they need in order to succeed.

With a focus on the technical – e.g., the bottom line, the strategic plan and the like – they effort and struggle, lacking greater self-awareness and emotional maturity. 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 fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”  Muhammad Ali

The Antidote to “Technology-Only”
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 self-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.

Check 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.

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • 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 your colleagues, friends, or family say? Would you ask them?
  • Do you tend to be “officious,” “all-business” or aloof in your relationships at work? What about at home or with others?
  • 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?

(c) 2016, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful.  Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, or pvajda(at)

You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.