Monthly Archives: March 2010

Following the leader

It happens sometimes that we are happily dancing and enjoying the world when we find ourselves in the arms of someone who is angry or frustrated.  Our world narrows and in a second we are not happily dancing, but angry and tense and no longer able to enjoy the moment.   The world seems a very personal place and it can be particularly wounding to experience another’s anger when we know we are not at fault in any way.

Leaders on the dance floor, especially when learning, or feeling out of their depth, can experience acute moments of rage, inadequacy and frustration.  Even if they mask those emotions in the interests of politeness, the body never lies, and their follower will often experience this as a moment of acute physical pain.

Sometimes we are dancing near other people who are going through this problem.   Couples can stop, argue, even storm off the dance floor.  Many experienced dance partnerships will talk about the heat of their ‘dance rows’ and about having to learn to leave that on the dance floor rather than take it home.

Our leader is not a guru, capable of handling all emotion, stress and difficulty in a dispassionate and calm way.  On a good day our leader can be wonderful, sensitive and attentive.  On a bad day this can be far from the case.

Followers on the dance floor have a difficult job in learning how to be ‘open’ to their leader and yet not be damaged or hijacked by the occasional ‘dance dagger’.  We all employ various techniques to handle this, from tactful breaks (to the ladies or the bar), or dancing with other leaders to allow the air to cool.   Sometimes it doesn’t work and an argument results.    Some followers will tell their leader in no uncertain terms where they are going wrong, while others will tactfully support the leader through the crisis.   Some will decide never to dance with that leader again, while others will try again at a later date working on the basis that time and experience will improve the leader.  This is often true.    It is helpful to remember, even in the most passionate of dances, that not everything is personal and that our partner can be experiencing acute emotions that are nothing to do with us.

It is the same at work.  Sometimes our boss is far from perfect.  Our leader is not sympathetic and sensitive but an angry person radiating frustration and temper throughout the workplace.   Sometimes we need to take the tactful equivalent of a trip to the ladies or the bar and allow the boss time to cool down and work it out.   We need to find a way to be ourselves, to be calm without being injured in this situation.

For all the thousands of words written on being a good leader, there is not a lot written about being a good follower.   This too is a skill worthy or study.   A tactful follower can smooth the path of a great boss having a difficult day and allow the boss and co-workers to handle strong emotions in a positive way.

This is not to say that any follower should be asked to endure bullying, tantrums of repeat bad behaviour.  The truth is, we are all far from perfect and from time to time our leader needs help as much as anyone

As on the dance floor, so in life

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.   Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website : www.irenicon.co.uk.  You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye

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Injured and still dancing?

Not everyone who comes to the dance floor is fit enough to dance all the steps.  Sometimes we are aware of our limitations beforehand.  Other times, we have no idea until we try to make a move and find we simply cannot.

Our mood and level of tension can affect our range of flexibility and options.  When I am relaxed, I can reach far further than when I am tense and anxious.

A good  leader will start by finding out how their follower is right now.   If the follower has had a ‘bad day at the office’ and the leader starts the first dance by initiating complex dynamic moves without any warm-up or introduction, the follower may find it impossible to relax and follow.

A good leader starts by relaxing themselves, then relaxing their follower and finding out what their follower’s capability is.  They then offer a lead within those possibilities.  As the follower gains confidence, the leader slowly expands the range of steps they are leading.

If the leader wants to dance more complicated steps, they must pick out a follower who is capable of matching them.  To demand too much of the follower is to invite distress, even  injury.

This responsiveness to the state of the follower is something leaders take a long time to learn.  Beginner leaders on the dance floor are barely able to control where they put their own feet, never mind worry about how their follower might be feeling.

But tango is an improvised dance form, so there is no need to take one particular set of steps, at any particular time, instead of another.

Back to the world of work . . . . The Government changed sick notes into ‘fitness notes’.  This is an invitation for employers to find out how their ‘followers’ are, and adjust the demands made upon them to take account of their health.

Many organisation are currently unable to improvise when it comes to fitness at work.  Hamstrung by decades of bureaucracy, the ‘management of sickness’ is mostly confined to the collection of statistics (rarely used) and the occasional dismissal or warning.

The ‘welfare’ issues of health and safety are detached from attendance, while customer care, performance management and other benchmark issues are not integrated in any way. We live in a world where most people are viewed as either ‘fit to work’ or ‘off sick’, with no understanding of the various in between states where we all fluctuate.

The disabled have a special legal license via their adjustments to be ‘half fit for work’ (not always honoured), but the rest of us are expected to dance our working dance regardless of how we feel, unless we are so ill as to be unable to attend work.

There is more room within the music of ‘achievement’ and ‘objectives’ than many managers realise.  Sometimes it is necessary to pause, just as in tango, to make time and space for the faster moves that will follow .

Our followers can recover their balance and poise (if they have lost it), and we can reconnect with each other and the music before moving on.

Will any organisation in the UK use fitness notes to create the possibility of greater achievement?

Or is everyone going to look at this as another malingerer’s charter, another piece of ‘red tape’ that handicaps the boss?

If every leader danced with every follower as if the follower were deliberately withholding their best from the dance floor, the act of dancing would become a monstrous thing of tyranny.

If every follower stepped on to the dance floor knowing that however bad they felt, they had no option but to do what they were led by someone with no idea of how they were – would they do it?

If we treated our best dancers as if their off days (and yes, they have them) were a deliberate insult to the world of dance, how long would it be before they went somewhere else?

And if we made them get a note from their mother or their GP to say they had a stiff back today before we changed our lead to accommodate that – would they ever dance with us again?

We live in peculiar times where the ‘leader’ and ‘follower’ mistrust each other in the dance of work.  The dance seems hard, the resistance seems great, and few are in harmony with the music.

Let’s take a moment, a little balanceo as they say in tango, and discover who we really are and who is able for what.

Let’s take a moment for fitness – without a note! As on the dance floor so in life …….

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.   Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website : www.irenicon.co.uk.  You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye

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Filed under employment law, performance management, sickness