All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players….
When you are a performer, it’s easier to draw the line between what happens on stage and all the work that goes into getting there. As business leaders, however, the lines blur between what is the performance and what’s behind the scenes.
In both cases, the acts on which we’re judged represent only a tiny glimpse of the work and learning and effort and practice that led to that point. I have been a fan of Contemporary Circus and the associated Performing Arts for many years and what I love most about it, despite the obvious physical feats – is the complexity and beauty of the communication that takes place in every performance.
A Circus performance is designed not only to delight and surprise but to tell a story. In as little as a few minutes, it has the power to effortlessly transport us into another world – to experience the world of the performer. What is the world? Well, it could be a world filled with darkness, where light has a mystical power, controlled only by a few – or a world where gravity doesn’t seem to affect people the same way, and even simple movements are elegant and beautiful – or a world full of laughter and joy, where even when things don’t go to plan, everyone has fun and no one gets hurt.
The magic of performance is the power to communicate in so many ways. While some performances may be a showcase of physical feats, condensing years of practice into a visual demonstration – it’s short-sighted to think that’s all there is to it. Most shows have an underlying story, a context, a theme. And most performances are structured like you’d structure a story, with an introduction, a source of tension and then a resolution. Performers use far more than just words to tell this story though. They utilise their entire bodies – from tiny facial expressions to grand gestures. They make use of movement within their space, lighting, music…they even make use of the audience’s reaction. They deliberately distort reality to force you beyond what you know to be true, opeining your mind to new possibilities. Some performances can incorporate mutliple storylines, points of view and interactions – all happening at the same time, and we as observers get to choose the level at which we immerse ourselves in the complexity of what we see.
So how does that all of that apply to being a business leader?
Firstly, while there may be one performer on stage – they never got there alone – there’s always a huge team behind any great production, not only in that production itself but in terms of the teachers and lessons and experiences that have shaped that artist’s journey on the way to this point. It’s the same for leaders. If you hold a position of influence – it’s important to remember to path you took to get there and all the people, triumphs and challenges that got you there. In acts with more than one person, the amount of trust is evident and inevitably there’ll be times when something doesn’t go to plan. Perhaps someone misses a cue, or a lift doesn’t go quite right, or they drop a ball…literally – but they quickly regroup and help one another get back on track – because the show must go on, and everyone is human.
Secondly, art in essence, is an impression of the world from the performers perspective, expressed in this case through performance – your Leadership Story should be your vision of the world, expressed through your actions as a leader. When you communicate, you will leverage multiple tools to captivate your audience – your story will need to reflect the unavoidable complexities that we deal with every day in business – it will need to speak to people who are at different points or with different motivations, it will need to be steady even in the midst of ambiguity and you can accomplish this – just like these performances do.
Finally, no performer ever gets on stage and tries something new. Every move is planned, practised, perfected through thousands of repetitions and you should be the same. The way that you think, speak and act every day are the repetitions that dictate the finesse and calibre of your Leadership performance. Your leadership stage may be everywhere but so is your practice space – grant yourself the grace to hone your craft with the curtains open and freedom from the pursuit of perfection in favour of growth.
There’s another important element to Contemporary Circus that holds true for successful leadership and it’s the community spirit. When you surround yourself with people who believe in you and in what you do, and who are commited to always learning and improving, trying new things and teaching others, then amazing things happen. If you as a leader embrace the opportunity to inspire others, to lead by example and to always look for ways to get better then everyone will want a ticket to that show.
Courtesy LinkedIn. By Rachel Delaney. Article available here.