What Leadership Lessons Can We Learn from a Professional Dancer?

What can the Chartered Accountant learn from the Dancer?

So much actually. It’s both ways for me, my dance has influenced studies, and the strong analytics background that I have gained by being a Chartered Accountant has influenced my dance as well. Few things I would like to draw attention to which are applicable in the business leadership context are:

  • Memory – Studying Chartered Accountancy has helped me develop a razor-sharp memory which helps me not to forget even one dance step while performing live
  • Focus – Studies has helped me focus on one thing at a time and excel in it and invariably this has helped me master several techniques of dance and perfect them
  • Prioritization – Juggling both dance and studies taught the fine art of balance and how to prioritize in a way that both get equal attention
  • Time Management – Every free hour I had, I would immediately channelize it in the right way and either devote it to dance or study. Now I am adept at getting the best out of the time I have
  • Efficiency – I learnt to maximize results with what resources I have and as a result become more productive and organized

Dance is not simply going on stage and performing. It involves a whole big list of things to tackle prior to the going live. From backstage arrangements like lights and mic, to handling musicians and their moods, costumes and jewellery, to publicity and networking and getting into the right positive mood just before you start is all part of the game. So, we as artistes must switch on and switch off our left and right brains, constantly.

How can leaders adopt a mindset that makes them successful?

The moment I knew Dance was my calling, I adopted a conscious mindset to fully focus on the same. A mindset that involved a process driven change. A process that involved taking up every opportunity that came my way to perform, to learn, to teach and to network.

Even in my initial years when there were not many performances, I took part in group dances and never allowed myself to be demotivated. I developed a mental makeup to be curious and enjoy what I was doing, and that passion slowly transformed into a meaningful and successful career.

It is an organic process that happens once you know this is your purpose in life. Likewise, the leaders of today can embrace such a mental makeup that makes them more aware of their existing opportunities and create new ones as well.

How can young leaders settle down to a career and build on the same?

Trial and error have played a huge part in my decision-making process. I took up a job right after completing my Chartered Accountancy. And immediately I knew despite my top scores, that this is not where I want to be.

The calling was so strong that I gravitated towards it naturally and nicely. So, for professionals to be successful I would suggest trying different things before you zero in on the real one, as that is the only way to achieve self-awareness and your mettle. So young leaders can possibly look at a few options and then decide what suits them best. I worked in the corporate sector and knew that that was not for me, and dance was a stronger force. That force is what decides how successful you are in your careers.

Under what conditions have you delivered your best?

I excel and dance with absolute joy when I am at my mental best. For this I must be at my physical best. Both are so interrelated for me, there is no compromise on health. This invariably creates an aura of positivity and is a big mood enhancer.

I would urge the leaders of today to invest time and effort on their health and equally so on their mental health.  They need to be mentally strong to handle stress and difficult customers and negative reactions.

How do you handle goal setting?

After every performance I set goals for myself. I review the video of my performances and critically analyse it and set clear and measurable goals to develop on particular aspects. Since I am very methodical by nature, this comes for me automatically.

For my students as well, there are clear action items. I structure their evolution as a dancer more for learning the art rather than just learning new dance items.

Likewise, in a business context, working professionals should look at solving business problems for customers rather than looking at their own individual portions. And their goals must be aligned to enhance their overall capability and solve critical business problems. Also, it would be good not to wait for the year end to review, immediate feedback goes a long way in incorporating course corrections.

What has community service taught you about personal leadership?

The biggest community that I serve is the students, so I give my best to them. In fact, I’m repeating what I received from my teacher.

Looking after my students completely is my mantra, spending time with them to understand their dreams, likes and schedules helps me teach them more effectively and nurture them.

It has helped me evolve as a leader and assume responsibility for my team. That is very valuable. If today’s leaders can maintain healthy and open relationships with their team members, then business outcomes are automatic.

What role does discipline play in the pursuit of excellence?

Highly important. While I can’t emphasize enough the role of discipline in pursuing dance. I also want to tell you that some of the students that I thought could never be dancers have blossomed beautifully through a disciplined approach.

I have been pleasantly surprised and tremendously happy for them. Their hard work and correction based on my feedback have transformed them into better dancers. And the message that I would like to share here is that to never give up on any member that you think may not have the potential. With the right developmental and disciplined approach, wonders can happen. And I have seen it happening in front of my eyes.

How can choreography in dance inform orchestration in organizations?

These are the main topics when we choreograph, which calls for a lot of thought, review, action and calibration.

2.ResearchRequirements Gathering
5.MusicValue Additions
6.PerformanceGo Live

How can the right brain define a higher purpose for life?

My dancing has helped me identify my purpose in life so completely that I can hardly put it in words. It gives me immense satisfaction to be who I am today and what I am doing and what I am sharing with my students is a beautiful journey. Yes, I am in a happy space and that has come about through dedication, passion, and destiny.

Never give up on any team member that you think may not have the potential. With the right developmental and disciplined approach, wonders can happen.

What can leaders learn from dance?
There is a multitude of skills required to be a dancer, and all of these are extremely relevant to the current business context. Either leaders should reframe their thinking to imbibe these qualities or ensure their teams possess these attributes:
Contingency Planning – Having a plan B always
People Management – Ensuring there are no ruffled feathers and that there is good teamwork
Diplomatic Relationships – Maintaining harmony with the entire troupe
Persevering Always – Never give up because of challenges
Go with the Flow – Have the maturity to accept that things may not go as planned at times (a personal injury taught me that not always can one execute things as visualized or planned)
Mindfulness – When I dance, I am in the moment and let go of the past and the future, this is very cathartic and has helped me tremendously
Acceptance – When I review my performances, I have learnt to accept who I am and know what to improve. That is also key.

Medha Hari Medha Hari

Bharathanatyam Dancer

MEDHA HARI is a qualified Chartered Accountant who found her calling in dance. It may look like dance and business have nothing in common, but dancing can revolutionize the way we think about leadership. Performing live, teaching her students, choreography, engaging with musicians and collaborating with artists from around the globe has taught Medha many life and leadership lessons. In this interview, she draws a parallel between dance and leadership.

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