Single Blog Banner Image 1

3 Leadership Lessons from the Stage

February 9th, 2017

Impact. Credibility. Presence. Inspiration. Clarity.

These are all attributes that leaders aspire to have so they can mobilize their troops. To be able to motivate and lead others through change, growth, and challenges requires not just having great ideas, but also about being able to move people at a heart level. For many of us, the ability to lead others them to take action, even into places that are unknown or outside their traditional comfort zone, isn’t a talent that many of us are born with – but that doesn’t mean those skills of persuasion and vision can’t be learned.

Data from organizations Gallup and the Harvard Business Review show that less than 40% of individuals in new leadership positions get any kind of training, coaching or mentoring. Discovering your leadership strengths can be hard to learn on the job, when the stakes of going up a learning curve can be high and your performance might even put your position at risk. Yet putting yourself in experiences where you’re stretching your idea of what’s possible for you outside the office can help to develop skills you can bring back to your professional life with you.

For me, that stretch and growth zone has come from community musical theatre. For the past few years, I’ve been part of a group of regular folk from all walks of life who’ve had a hankering to be on a stage. It’s been exhilarating, and challenging, and more fun than I could have imagined. For my troupe, The Riverdale Players, another great bonus has been the ability to raise tens of thousands of dollars for a worthy children’s charity that does great work around the globe.

Here are 3 of the leadership lessons I’ve learned from the stage that I bring into my professional work every day:

1. Be Humble

There’s nothing like putting yourself in a challenging situation to discover the depths of your own creativity, resilience and courage. But if you operate from a place of ego and willing to commit only after you find out “what’s in it for me”, you miss the journey in your rush to be acclaimed and adored. Self-serving and ego-centric leaders rarely inspire anyone.

Stay humble. Being part of a cast is like being part of a team. Sometimes you get the lead role, and other times you’ve got a few lines as part of the ensemble. But everyone’s contribution matters and when you in a place of serving the greater good you’ll create magic.

2. Be Vulnerable

Somewhere along the line in business, most of learned that the best leaders were the tough ones. Don’t show any fear. Keep your emotions in check. There was a time in our society when that alpha male model got the job done, but these days with people, particularly millennials, looking for greater meaning in their workplaces it falls short.

Singing a song to hundreds of people when you’re not a trained singer or dancing when you have two left feet is active practice in being vulnerable. It’s proof positive that you’re not “perfect” and utterly human. But that moment of vulnerability, when you are baring your heart and soul to the audience, is when you touch the hearts of your audience. In a flash, there’s a connection that makes them listen, pay attention, and care about what you’re all about.

Taking this lesson of being vulnerable into the boardroom doesn’t mean you need to start serenading your corporate mission statement to your team. But it does mean letting folks know when you’re not sure of something, or you’re feeling disappointment. It means asking for help instead of pretending you know all the answers. When people see and feel that you have your own skin in the game, they will be far more willing to pitch in and help you get things done.

3. Joy is Infectious

It can be a very stressful and hectic pace in the workplace, with a lot of serious decisions needing to be made every day. Yet it is enormously important to remember to have some fun too. When we performed on stage, our director always reminded us to smile and keep our heads up even if we flubbed our lines or tripped up in our dance moves. After our shows, we heard from so many audience members about how inspired they were by how much fun we were having and that it raised their spirits for days after the show.

Joy is infectious. Try to remember what inspires you about the work you do, or the people you serve, and let that joy and gratitude inform your behaviour, conversations, and choices. According to Gallup, the top two reasons people leave their jobs is because of the relationships they have with their manager and the relationships they have with their peers. Keeping a light heart makes heavy burdens easier to bear and enriches your relationships.