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 :  You can follow Annabel on twitter –

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