I've just been listening to the wonderful dancer and choreographer Wayne McGregor on Desert Island Discs. The show is a secret passion of mine...you learn so much from listening to these people from all walks of life and with all sorts of takes on the world. Their honesty can be coruscating and uplifting and often makes you feel that you're not alone in thinking or feeling as you do. It's a bit like an MBA with music thrown in.
Anyway, he was talking about working with dancers to achieve his sometimes challenging positions and requests. He explained that he's unusually tall for a dancer, with long limbs and a body that can fold itself up into origami-like shapes. It can sometimes be hard, he said, for the dancers who work for him to 'unlearn' their classical training and learn to work like him during their time with him. In effect, he was talking about taking on a new role, or a new challenge and having to unlearn all that you've learned before, in order to be open enough to be able to embrace it. And he was also saying that not everyone is able to do that, so some dancers who are highly-skilled can't adapt to his way of leading and his expectations.
This brought him on to his way of leading. He sees his dance projects as innovation, as pushing the boundaries. He sees them as collaborations. He has a vision, but he knows he can't get there alone, and he needs people around him to embrace the challenge, unlearn their habits and preconceptions, open their minds to new ways of doing things and bring their own experience to the project. He doesn't expect them to blindly follow his instructions and direction. He expects constructive challenge and a better production at the end.
I don't know if he's had coaching, or if he's just a natural, visionary, collaborative leader, but he's succeeding as a result. His humble acceptance of the fact that we're better together combined with his inspiring vision produce results again and again.
You don't have to be a diva to be an inspiring leader, even in the arts. In fact you'll get more done if you're not. Leading is one of the most challenging things that any of us ever does in our lives. It's easy to follow instructions or stick rigidly to your plan. It's 100 times more challenging to open your mind to the fact that there might be a better way than the one you learned or mapped out. I'm very taken with the concept of unlearning and its potential value in leadership, so thank you Wayne and Kirsty. You inspired me once again!
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