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There is a federal election in full swing across our country and candidates of all persuasions are vying for our vote. Some of them have mobilised sizable groups of energetic supporters to help them get elected. Together they are looking to mobilise as many electors as possible to cast votes in their favour. Mobilising people is the fundamental work of leadership, so it makes a lot of sense to examine your own leadership in terms of how it affects other people. Does it engage, energise, and mobilise them? Or does it have a different effect?

Image credit: The Canberra Times


A few years ago, a wonderful short video was doing the rounds on social media. It showed a daytime outdoor festival held in a green public park with hundreds of partygoers present. The music is pumping but no one is dancing. Then suddenly a young man runs into the open grassed area and starts to dance wildly to the music, all by himself, seemingly unconcerned about how he looks or what others think about his dancing. After a short while, the lone dancer is joined by another person who also dances wildly. Before too long a few more people join in. Then, all of a sudden, a tipping point is reached and a flood of people rush to the area to join in the dance. The video ends at that point, with the once empty grassed area now a heaving mass of dancers. This video, entitled ‘How to start a movement’ shows how one person’s dance can mobilise others. This makes it a great leadership discussion primer.


Although leadership on the dancefloor is important, it isn’t always about staying among the action and other dancers. To see the dance we do as leaders and discern the impact it has on others, we also need to get off the dance floor and up onto the balcony. This is an idea I first heard at Harvard University from Marty Linsky and Ron Heifetz, both teachers of leadership. Ron is a psychiatrist as well as a gifted Juilliard-trained violinist. He and Marty use the analogy of music and dancing to explore leadership concepts and practices. One of my favourites is this notion of the dance floor versus balcony, which they (along with co-author Alexander Grashow) describe in The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.

When you are in the act of leading, influencing and mobilising others, you are on the dance floor. This is where most of your work is done; however, similar to being on a nightclub dance floor, you may struggle to see very well beyond your own dancing, past the heaving masses, or through the strobing haze produced by the lights and smoke machine. You don’t know how your leadership looks to others and you can’t see the impact it is having beyond the immediate moment.


Every leader should regularly get up onto the metaphorical balcony. It allows them to look down on the dance floor, and examine the impact they are having on others. Here are some questions you can ask yourself from the balcony.

  • Does my leadership dance encourage and mobilise more people onto the dance floor? Or do some people stay seated on the sidelines, passively watching. Or worse, criticising and judging?

  • When I step onto the dance floor, do other people join me, or do people leave the dance floor instead? Do they disengage and withdraw?

  • What is the effect of my leadership dance on others, and how am I responding to them?

Your answers to these questions can help you see where your leadership dance is helpful in mobilising other people. It can also help you see where you are having a lesser effect.

You are then free to decide what you might need to do differently when you return to the dance floor, should you wish to engage, energise, and mobilise more people with your leadership.

Gerard Penna is a leadership advisor and coach to CEOs, boards, billionaires, and senior leaders. He teaches in diverse settings from desert mining camps to hi-tech start-ups and sky-scraping boardrooms. He is the author of Xtraordinary: The Art and Science of Remarkable Leadership, host of the Xtraordinary Leaders Podcast, and CEO and Founder of Xtraordinary Leaders; a training company deeply committed to lifting the bar on leadership and leadership development.


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