How the Argentinian tango can inspire a clear leadership style

There is hardly a dance that can boast the improvisation potential of an Argentine tango. Here, the leader shows where he wants to go and, at the same time, empathetically engages with his partner.

He (or she) who wishes to learn how to lead or is pondering what leadership actually means, should try out dancing the Argentine tango. For there is hardly a better way to explain the concept of leadership than with this dance metaphor. That impression is confirmed whenever I slip into my tango shoes to conquer the dance floor together with my partner.

So why is the Argentine tango such a good metaphor? It is here that both partners need to sense what the other wants. The idea is for each partner to listen with their body to their partner’s needs. The Argentine tango calls for plenty of creative and communicative interaction – filled as it is with steps and movements that come into being through mutual improvisation. Just as in real life, the dancers have to respond, develop ideas, find solutions whenever something unforeseen happens.

Dancing the Argentine tango, you will, again and again, discover new figures and common pathways – even with a relatively small repertoire of steps and movements. In business jargon, this could be referred to as a “toolbox”: a set of devices used to respond flexibly to different situations. Such a procedure presupposes that the partners listen to each other, ideally sensing – or even knowing – the other’s next step rather than just dancing away.

Apart from listening with their bodies, the partners need to sort out the respective roles. If you decide to lead, you need to know the way. You need an attitude and posture that the other can understand and sense. Those who wish to lead, whether in a company or on the dance floor, have to rest in themselves, developing an inner attitude that shows the way. Only then can the partner know which step to make next and which figure to dance. Only then can both partners trust each other. Dancing is a dialogue where you sense what the other wants. Yet, at the same time, you can rest completely in yourself at every single moment.

A good, a decisive tango dancer is the ideal leader. Good leaders do not try to convince their employees of anything, without listening to them beforehand. For disregard is the best way to lose those that are supposed to follow you. Good dancers rest in themselves and still send signals that can easily be understood. If they then dance also with enthusiasm, they can be sure of a trusting partner who will do what they want them to do.