Recently, there has been a lot of “talk” about leadership and specific “skills” good leaders possess. There are books, articles, blog posts, speeches, etc. As a coach, naturally, I am paying attention and soaking it all in. And as it often happens in life, if you are thinking of something, it seems to appear and dominate the field of your mental vision. And sometimes, when you are extra lucky, you might even experience an "aha" moment.
So, this past Sunday morning, as I was happily jumping to the sounds of Zumba music, it hit me – my amazing instructor has been giving me leadership lessons for months and months.
Think it’s impossible to teach coaching and leadership skills through an intense aerobic exercise with loud music? Judge for yourself – this is what my Zumba instructor does, without fail, class after class, week after week:
· He smiles and says hello – There are many of us in the class, yet he manages to come over and say hello to every person, before every class.
· He is fully present and completely prepared – He is always at least 15 minutes early for each class “to set up and meet and greet.” During the class, he appears to be fully immersed in what he is doing. It is clear that he knows his stuff and has a full plan in place: he knows exactly what routine goes after which, who might need extra encouragement, when to pause things and when speed things up. To us, his students, it feels as if there is nothing in the world more important to our instructor than all of us having a great class.
· He encourages participation and effort, NOT just outcomes – We are not all Zumba pros in the class. We cover all the different age groups. For some of us it’s the first time in our life that we do exercise of any kind. So my Zumba instructor does not demand perfection, but he does encourage “trying” and “giving your best.” Our efforts, no matter how big or small, don’t ever seem to go unnoticed. I have seen our fearless Zumba leader wink, give thumbs up or quietly whisper "I am so proud of you."
· He leads from the back and the front – In every class, the instructor takes a few people and switches places with them. Which means that every one of us gets a chance to be “in the front” and lead, while he gets a chance to experience the class from the last row.
· He makes every person feel “seen” and “heard” – No matter our age, size, weight, quality of our “dancing” or our familiarity with Zumba steps, he manages to make all of us feel special, noticed, cared for. When there is a new person he makes a very deliberate effort to make them feel welcomed. He asks the newbie a number of questions (quietly and discreetly, without making them feel uncomfortable): Is this your first time here? Have you done Zumba before? Would you like to be in the front so you can see better and follow the steps?
· He challenges us without scolding – Sometimes our instructor just stands in the back and watches us go through a new routine we learned. He pushes us to repeat it more than once or twice until we get the routine close to right and then he claps loudly and says “You are all amazing! You did it!”
· He uses humor to defuse tension and fatigue – By the 45th minute, we begin to lose some of our resolve to complete the class. The instructor lightens things up. He cracks jokes and makes everyone laugh through sweat and fatigue.
Most importantly, he does all these things – and likely others that I am not even conscious of – consistently, every single time. People want to come to his class because they know that they’ll feel great during and after the class – physically and emotionally, and because they are going to be called “fearless dancing warriors” and “the strongest Zumb-ists ever.”
Is it not a great leadership example? It sure does look that way to me.