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The not so Cosmic Dancer (and the over-selling of Leadership)

I am a dreadful dancer.

I am bad enough on my own but the problems really start to develop when I am dancing with a partner. Tradition dictates that the male will lead in a dancing couple, thus making it a hapless experience for the two of us.

Now, perhaps that is down to not being taught leadership skills at school. After all, every school and university seems to want to boast that it teaches its students Leadership (with a capital L).

But I think it’s more to do with the fact that I don’t have the grace, the stature or the nimbleness. Or the physical dexterity. So I am happy to face the fact that I am not a leader.

That said, put me under the control of a brilliant dancer and I can glide across the floor. I am happy to be led. And the best dancers will steer you whilst letting it look to anyone watching as if you are leading them.

I think that Leadership is over-rated. And it concerns me that we are elevating it to such a core skill in the workplace, in academia and in life.

The set of skills that get bandied around as Leadership – self-confidence, self-awareness, discipline, team-building, creative-thinking etc. are all vitally important in their own right. They shouldn’t need to be bundled up into an alpha construct that embodies taking charge, being at the front, or asserting power over others.

As an employer, I am increasingly worried by the number of job applications I receive from graduates that emphasise the candidate’s experience and training in Leadership. I am even more worried, in interviewing many of them, to hear that their ambition is to be a Leader.

Positions of Leadership, in the main, are earned not awarded. Events can occasionally provide us with the opportunity to demonstrate hidden Leadership skills when we do take charge in an unexpected or unprecedented way. But Leadership is normally developed over time, through trust, common sense, team-playing and the ability to be led by others.

And, as an employer, looking for my next graduate recruits, what I am really looking for is people with the skills to know how to be led; to take instruction, adapt, listen and learn. Only then can you really be a Leader.

Leadership is meaningless without the skills of empathy, tact, judgement, tolerance and humility that we learn through being led. If we don’t learn this first, we will never learn to be effective Leaders.

The greatest team-players – on the dance floor or in the board room – make adequate Leaders seem brilliant. But they enable brilliant Leaders to deliver the improbable. And they make whatever it is that you are doing – working or dancing – a privilege to be part of.

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