01 Mar 2018

Dance Dance Revelation

How ballet can keep managers on their toes
by Jennifer Mele


photo by Chris Taggart

About 30 executives are gathered in a boardroom when a trio of dancers enters, one of them gracefully leaping onto the conference table and assuming fifth position.

This star ballerina and her colleagues from American Ballet Theatre (ABT) spend the next 90 minutes working on the creation, rehearsal, and premiere of a new piece of work with a choreographer—who encourages the executives to observe the process up close, ask questions, and draw parallels to their own professional lives.

Designed to help managers tackle a change-adverse corporate culture, the workshop is part of ABT’s new Leadership Lab, launched by executive director Kara Medoff Barnett (MBA 2007) with former ABT dancer and current Harvard Kennedy School student, John Michael Schert.

“Experiencing and understanding the creative process can inform decision-making, planning, and teamwork in a business environment,” explains Barnett. “Many companies are striving to find ways to differentiate, navigate changing conditions, and discover new pathways to growth and innovation. And I think artists can add a lot to the conversation—they deserve a seat at the table.”

What Dancers Can Teach Executives

  1. No world premiere without a dress rehearsal: In ballet, a dress rehearsal full of mistakes and mishaps paves the way for a stellar performance. How often do we, as business leaders, repeat presentations with our teams before we unveil them to a prospective client, an important customer, or a board of directors?
  2. If you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough: When was the last time we encouraged our employees to push an idea so far that their results or recommendations seemed outlandish? And how can we make them feel safe enough to pivot from the impossible recommendation to one that’s similarly bold and might just be a breakthrough?
  3. Listen for nonverbal cues: Dancers rarely talk in the studio; instead they lock eyes and anticipate where their colleagues will move next. How do we silently observe and sense what our colleagues need from us? How can we help them find their balance and confidence, and how can we let them know when we need a hand, a shift in balance, or a novel approach?
Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2007, Section E

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