Human Resources Humanity Leadership Reflection Self awareness

Get off the dance floor.

Going on the balcony intentionally, taking a step back, and asking ourselves a few questions will allow us to see human resources as human beings, as people.

I worked for a boss who loved to dance. Every time we had a company meeting, and there was an opportunity to dance, he would dance — from the very first tune to the very last tune. When you needed to talk to him about something, you could forget it when he was dancing. He was simply not available. He was in a trance, in flow.

I am not much of a dancer. My movements are clumsy and do not always follow the rhythm of the beat. Apparently, I was not born with a talent for dancing.

Some people claim that everyone has a talent for artistic expression, such as dancing, singing, or playing an instrument. 

Their claim is that we, human beings, limit ourselves very early on in our lives in the way we use our bodies and our voices. Add on the protective and often limiting feedback we get from our caretakers, and another talent is lost.

I grew up in a culture that was not very expressive. Act normal, that’s already wild enough, was one of the mantras in my culture. Moving to the Czech Republic did not help me grow my expressive side either. Those were the nineties. Lots has changed since.

There’s much to be grateful for due to my move, but encouraging my expressive side is not one of them. Communism encouraged sameness and discouraged differentiation. Those who were different, outspoken, and in the spotlight threatened the regime.

So, I spend most of my time in dance clubs and during music concerts on the balcony. 

I admire and envy those with a talent for dancing. You can see that the dance floor is fun. Many people forget about their surroundings, forget about the past and the future, and are entirely in flow, enjoying every rhythmic beat of the moment.

A lot, but not all. You can easily spot the people who dance but are always aware of their surroundings. How do I look? How do I dance? What will people think? How are my moves? 

Those people are mentally on the balcony while physically on the dance floor. They have split themselves in two. One half is observing; the other half is dancing. Neither half is doing a good job. 

You can’t split focused concentration in two.

That’s precisely what makes it very visible. You can ‘see’ it when people’s minds are elsewhere. What does all of this mean for a leader?

High-performing leaders realize it’s important to be on the dance floor, where revenues are generated, and on the balcony, where strategies for revenue generation are imagined, created, overseen, and analyzed. 

You can’t be in both places at the same time. Each place has its function.
  • Dance to secure your goals now
  • Oversee to secure your goals also later

Another reason to be aware of the distinction between a balcony and a dance floor is the ability to observe and recognize human behavior. Understanding this behavior is crucial for both consumers and employees. 

To be an effective leader, we need to understand the people we work with.

We need to understand why people do what they do. To gain insight, as explained last week.

During my years in the supermarket industry, the company I worked for made a point of visiting stores regularly. There was no set of rules, but you were expected to spend time in the stores because that’s where you interact with colleagues and customers.

Unfortunately, and partially due to the lack of guidelines, these visits were not the most effective until we changed the meaning of those visits.

At first, these loose guidelines resulted in inconsistent results and behaviors. 

For some operations managers, the visits were more about them and their egos. A store visit meant they would let everyone know what was wrong. It was very much fear-driven. As a result, everybody tried to figure out when the visitors were coming so they could prepare the stores. Not for the customers but for the managers. Wrong.

Other operations managers were better intended but made it more about product and merchandising. The visits focused on product availability, merchandising, and freshness — essential elements of supermarket success, but not the entire story. 

The change came when we moved from the dance floor to the balcony and started analyzing behavior. To begin by critically examining our behavior. 

What were our intentions, and what was their impact? 

The main conclusion was that our colleagues at the stores did not feel empowered to make the right decisions for the customers. They were afraid of the consequences of their behavior, so they did not serve the customers as they should have been served.

That was not their fault; it was our fault. Our behavior did not result in consumer-driven behavior at the store level. What needed to change first was what we were doing because our actions resulted in colleagues’ actions that negatively impacted customers.

As Simon Sinek quoted:

“Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”

Simon Sinek

That depends, for a big part, on the leaders and their understanding of what people need.

Here’s a list that Tony Robbins created based on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs:

  • Certainty: The need for safety, stability, and predictability in life.
  • Variety: The need for change, novelty, and stimulation in life.
  • Significance: The need to feel important, unique, and valued.
  • Connection: The need for love, belonging, and intimacy.
  • Growth: The need for personal development, learning, and progress.
  • Contribution: The need to give back, contribute to others, and make a difference.

I prefer this list over Maslow’s because Robbins created it with a business lens in mind. 

Going on the balcony intentionally, taking a step back, and asking ourselves a few questions will allow us to see human resources as human beings, as people.

Questions like:

  • Are people engaged?
  • What do they need?
  • Are we offering what they need?
  • What’s missing? What needs to change? What needs to continue?

Likewise for customers. Customers are people with similar needs. They like predictability (don’t change the store too often), variety (offer good selection and new products), significance (feel welcome and valued), connection (being part of the local community), and contribution (a store that gives back).

In the end, it all boils down to being aware as a leader of your context, your intentions, and your impact on the people you serve.

Awareness is a superpower.

Your turn: How often do you pause to consider your people’s needs and how you impact them?

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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