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Be an Original Leader

Dance. Even When They Tell You Not to.

Let me set the scene:

A year ago, my company was hosting its first-ever leaders’ forum. We were gathering 100 far-flung leaders for an event intended to kick-off a company-wide cultural shift.

This was no baby step. This was a monumental leap. We hired a leadership company to help coach us on pulling the event off successfully.

As CEO, I was responsible for opening and closing the 2-day summit. Since this was about inspirational leadership, it was pretty important that my message be inspiring.

In the days leading up to the forum, we’d already had several huddles about my opening outline. (For the uninitiated, huddle is leadership coaching lingo for meeting.) Now, just hours before kick-off, the coaches requested another huddle to go over my closing speech.

Some weeks before, they’d sent me a popular video to use as a prop. It’s the one of the guy at the concert who begins dancing and inspires everyone else to join in. Obviously, it’s a fun metaphor for leadership and how infectious positive energy and inspiration can be. It’s cute. I guess.

They wanted me to include it in my closing. I had other ideas.

“I saw the video. I agree it’s inspiring, but instead of showing it, I think I’m just going to dance.”

Deeply concerned looks from friendly leadership professionals. “Yeah… Are you sure you caught the voice over? The really powerful message it offers?”

We started the video again. About 30 seconds in, I shut it down.

“Ok, here’s the thing. I understand the message and what it’s trying to get across. But this guy isn’t really a leader. He’s probably drunk. And the people that start dancing, they’re probably drunk too.”

At this point, the people in the room looked like they’d rather be drunk than entertain the idea of me dancing on stage.

“Let me ask you this, are you worried that we’re going to have an amazing few days and then I’m going to ruin it by dancing? Or are you’re worried that I’m going to make an ass of myself?”

The answer was unanimous, “Nope. We are not worried about that first thing.”

“Great, it’s settled then. I’m dancing.”

We had an incredible leadership summit. Some of the proudest moments of my career occurred that week.

When it came time to close, I went through my prepared remarks. Then we put up just one slide that said, “The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.”, a quote by Derek Sivers in his Ted Talk.

Cue music.

I stood on that stage and started dancing.

I looked nuts.

But only for a few seconds. As I predicted, someone else started dancing. Then another. Within 10 seconds, the room full of 100 people were dancing.

After it was over, the team came up to me and said, “I can’t imagine a better way to end such an incredible few days.”

It was different. It was vulnerable and energizing. It was just the kind of unexpected leadership that people crave and love.

As a leader, people will listen to you because of your authority.

But they will follow you out of curiosity. They will follow you because you do the things that intrigue them. They follow you to learn. They follow you to be inspired.

So if you get a chance to be bold, to surprise people, to inspire them, do it.

Don’t just show videos.

Dance.

I would love to hear what kind of “dancing” you’ve done as a leader…

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