Sunday, May 25, 2008

Being a Leader of Hope

After college, I first moved to southern California to live and study with a Metropolitan Opera singer and then later moved to New York to continue study. I spent countless hours in the library at Lincoln Center listening to music and watching videos of rehearsals and performances of The Metropolitan Opera and The New York City Ballet when George Balanchine was the choreographer. When Tom Peters spoke on a recent post of the choreographer and dancer and the leader who deals in hope, I thought of the many videos I watched and the wonderful books I read, notably Prodigal Son: Dancing for Balanchine in a World of Pain and Magic by ballet great Edward Villella.

Balanchine was indeed a dealer of hope, although some might say his leadership and choreography pushed dancers to the limit that physically and emotionally broke their spirits and bodies. His choreography seemed to defy laws of physics, taxing the bodies of dancers and creating beauty beyond belief, giving hope to dancers that their bodies as instruments of art could defy laws, entering the realm of magic and wonder. I was mesmerized by his creativity, his musicality, his discipline and his brilliance that “painted portraits of excellence” in motion.

As a manager of a rather large mixed use hotel, I used some of these same defying techniques which resulted in hope with my staff, especially the housekeeping staff as there were great issues there which affected our image and sales. The outcome was great. I sought to elevate the way in which housekeepers thought about themselves, instead of focusing on their jobs. This in turn resulted in greater performance, pushing themselves to outer limits. They became the focus and not the job. The focus was not on changing beds and cleaning rooms, but on them.

The New York City Ballet biography of Balanchine notes that instead of focusing on plots, he focused on the dancer; this brought forth the plot and created innovative movements based on the bodies and particulars of each dancer. Villella was lettered in baseball and a championship boxer. Balanchine recognized this, though perhaps not initially, and began to choreograph pieces for him with his athleticism in mind. The result was stellar! Villella’s performances were great sublime artistic athletic feats! As a choreographer, Balanchine generally de-emphasized plot in his ballets, preferring to let "dance be the star of the show." While focusing on staff instead of tasks may not be novel, it is nevertheless a good reminder that it brings personal creativity, innovation and an abundance of hope to those we lead.

A a leader, do you give those whom you lead hope?

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