Advice / Succeeding at Work / Management

5 Lessons I Learned About Being a Manager From Dance Class

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I love to dance—African, Salsa, Zumba, all of it.

I also love managing people and coaching other managers. In fact, as the VP of People & Talent at The Muse, that’s a huge part of my job. And over the years I’ve seen a number of parallels between being a great dancer and a great manager.

In fact, as I walked out of my Zumba class recently, it hit me that so many of the basic concepts overlap (even if the required outfits for both activities don’t).

For example:

1. Finding the Perfect Partner Starts With You

Like seeking the perfect dance partner, finding the best addition to your team starts with understanding yourself. For example, what are your goals? If you want to get good enough to be on Dancing with the Stars, your partners should too . And if you want to break company records, your team needs to be right behind you.

Or, you can look at it another way: What is your work style? Are you looking for someone to complement your work or have such a different style that you learn something new. Knowing the answer to that question can help you pick who to work with on certain projects and even who to hire.
Last, but not least, how often do you want to practice? Or, in office buzzwords, do you have the same work ethic? This matters!

Assuming you’re not a workaholic, you want to make sure everyone who reports to you has a similar idea of what qualifies as hard work (and likewise, how much is too much).

2. Don’t Give Up When You’re Struggling to Learn a Move

Fact: Learning a new dance move and mastering a management technique are both hard and frustrating (and often in both cases, nothing you’d want on camera). But if you stop practicing, you’ll not only fail to ever master that particular move, but all the other techniques you learned in the past will fade as well.
So, keep on practicing—both that move and that tricky conversation about performance issues (or a raise negotiation or a conflict between two co-workers). You will get better.

(And if you think you need more than practice, you can always take a free online management class—or two.)

3. Find the Right Instructor

Sometimes the best way to learn is to watch the greats in action. Sure you could make up your own dance routine, but sometimes copying a master until you have your own style works best (Beyonce’s Single Ladies routine anyone?) .

So, read those leadership books from the experts and find a great mentor who you can go to when you’re both wanting to grow and when you’re stuck.

No one expects you to have all the answers, so don’t expect that from yourself.

4. Stay Healthy for the Best Performance

If you aren’t healthy physically and mentally, you’re unable to perform at your best, letting yourself and your dance partner who depends on you down.

As a manager, your team needs you. So go to that yoga class, go for a walk, eat those vegetables, recharge your batteries—giving to yourself will help you give to others. No one likes a boss who’s always in a bad mood.

So, be that person who understands that everything you do outside the office (or off the dance floor) affects that time when you are in the spotlight.

5. Remember to Shake Your Booty

Sometimes you and your team need to skip the routine and freestyle to remember why you love what you do so much. That means that it’s OK to throw out the rulebook every once in a while, switch up a meeting—heck, even cancel a meeting.

While structure’s awesome, so are those moments when you change everything up and give your team a chance to get creative. Sometimes that creativity might mean brainstorming, and other times, it might mean getting everyone out of the office for an early happy hour.

Being a manager is hard. But so is dancing (and literally getting to dance class after a long day at the office). But the more you do it, and the more you try to actively improve at it, the better you’ll get. And somedays, you might learn how to that from reading a book—and other days, you may learn from an awesome Zumba instructor.

Are you a dancer, too? How about a manager? A dancer-manager like me? Tell me on Twitter.