The dance floor as a metaphor for life and how we must open our eyes to lead

click to enlarge |caleb walsh illustration
|caleb walsh illustration

What we see determines how we lead. Too often, we lead from a constricted viewpoint stemming from a limited perspective. Seldom do entrepreneurs and individuals in leadership positions take time to pause and ask if what they see is accurate. In a fast-paced environment which most of us work, this seems almost impossible because of the endless texts, emails, questions and looming deadlines.

I would submit for your consideration that it has never been more important to ask if our perceptions are accurate than during a fast-paced situation. Learning to diagnose situations correctly is important because that diagnosis determines how we exercise leadership. What we see determines largely whether a diagnosis is correct or incorrect. The consequences of not seeing a situation correctly and misdiagnosing are often consequential.

All of us have gone to the doctor at some point in our life. If the doctor misdiagnoses an illness, the subsequent prescription is most surely wrong, which inevitably leads to faulty outcomes. The same is true for each of us who are running organizations and starting businesses.

By not properly diagnosing a situation correctly, desired outcomes become elusive. A mentor of mine, who I have studied under at both a university back east as well as a leadership institute in Colorado, is a gentleman by the name of Marty Linsky. Marty dutifully describes this kind of situation like being on the metaphorical dance floor. If you think back to the dances you attended while growing up, the memories of a crowded gym floor, loud music and dancing with your friends probably come flooding back.

The dance floor serves as a wonderful metaphor and theoretical framework for how many of us experience life today. Life can feel similar to the dance floor chaos. In these situations, keep in mind that while we are on the dance floor, our perception and view is limited and often obstructed mainly because the dance floor is crowded and chaotic. Ironically, this is often the very situation many of us make decisions in. Another option exists to make wiser decisions. While it is important to regularly present on the dance floor in our respective organization, it is equally important we do not permanently camp there. Leading exclusively from the dance floor limits our view, understanding, and ability to make good decisions.

Our oldest child completed middle school this year. Hypothetically speaking, let's say she told us several key details about a dance she had recently attended. In her perception and version of the story, she describes a crowded dance floor with loud music, and one where the whole world was in attendance. Let's say that my wife, Kerry, and I happened to be chaperoning that particular dance and our view was not from the dance floor like our daughter's, but rather from the elevated balcony. Our view was definitely different than hers. We noticed all of her friends crowded around the music speaker while dancing and that, in reality, that was the only crowded section on the entire dance floor.

In this particular metaphor, we noticed much of the dance floor was actually empty. She described the dance as loud and crowded, yet that perception was the result of dancing directly in front of the speakers. It is the emerging understanding that each of us operates from a limited perspective. Being mentally on the balcony allows a more propitious view of the situation from a different perspective, which provides a better understanding of the situation. The most dangerous place to be is to not realize our view is incomplete.

The challenge we face as entrepreneurs and leaders is developing broader awareness by not leading exclusively from the dance floor nor leading exclusively from the balcony. The theoretical framework is to mentally move back and forth because the view from the dance floor is incomplete as is the view from the balcony. What we see determines how we lead. ♦

Kevin Parker is an entrepreneur and teaches leadership and business courses at Whitworth University. Previously, he served as a Republican state representative for the 6th Legislative District.

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About The Author

Kevin Parker

Kevin Parker is an entrepreneur and teaches leadership and business courses at Whitworth University. Previously, he served as a Republican state representative for the 6th Legislative District.