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How learning the tango can help you change your business for the better

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Business leaders can turn to many fads and so-called gurus to help them cope with the pressures and strains of running an organisation.

Meditation, tree-hugging, group hugs, channelling your inner child etc, etc…..

Here comes another – apparently business executives can learn a lot about change management from tango dancers.

It is the belief of Ralf Wetzel, management professor at Belgium’s Vlerick Business School. Wetzel, working with psychologist and dancer Frauke Nees, said there are three things that characterise the Argentine tango, which leaders would do well to study before embarking upon a change management project:

Improvise

The tango is based on improvised movement said Wetzel. “There are a few steps that can be combined but there are no standardised procedures. Classic change management concepts rely on formalised and linear step models restricting the leader in their ability to adapt to new situations,” he said. 

“But leaders should harness the power of improvisation and instant adaptation to new situations. Change leadership becomes much more effective when leaders learn to improvise.”

Profit from asymmetry

“In the tango there is a clear role distinction between a leader and follower. It is clear who is giving directions and who is performing this,” argued Wetzel. “Contrary to very recent and modern concepts of collective or `Vagabond’ leadership, which praise the absence of hierarchy between leaders and followers, this asymmetry is highly effective in providing clarity, a visible sense of direction and quick decision-making. 

“However, this asymmetry must not to be mistaken with dictatorial leadership or powerless submission of the follower, it must be based on a trustful and relationship instead.”

Embrace emotion, protect pride

According to Wetzel the tango is a performance of desire, passion, seduction, despair and the struggle for recognition.

“It therefore plays out a vocabulary of emotions, which are commonly unacknowledged in modern change management concepts. Change management projects are emotionally charged – employees are proud of their work and this can be damaged in the process of altering the way things are done,” he said.

 “Tango dancers protect each other’s pride during a performance by turning mistakes into deliberate moves, and good leaders should similarly seek to ensure their employees take pride in what they do and that their pride is not hurt in any upheaval.”

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