Do You Think You’re a Leader?
If I asked how many of you consider yourself to be in a leadership position some of you would raise your hand and some of you wouldn’t. The fact is, no one escapes the responsibility of leadership.
All forms of successful relationship—whether personal or professional—require leadership. Even our one-to-one connections necessitate an understanding of how to create teamwork.
I didn’t consider myself a leader either when I took to the streets as a budding street performer thirty years ago. That error in self-understanding turned out to be costly, as you’ll see if you decide to read my story below.
If you just want the quick, actionable truth—without the full story—here it is.
Teamwork comes from caring what other people think, feel and want.
And caring is a leadership skill that can be strengthened and improved by learning how to ask better questions.
We’ve put together a very powerful set of leadership questions you can use for building great teams, whether you manage employees in an organization or you’re just a parent trying to make it through the day.
If you’re not convinced that a shortfall of leadership skill in the team building department could work against you, then read on.
That’s what I thought too—and boy, was I wrong!
Learning About People From the Stage
My goal in the early stages of my career as a comedian and performer was to entertain as successfully as I could.
Much of my training for engaging audiences skillfully came from years of street performance. As a public performer in these uncontrolled environments, it became clear early on that successful street theater depended as much on crowd management, a good grasp of human psychology, and an understanding of team building activities as it did with having a talent for entertainment.
I learned this the hard way before my freedom habits were better established.
My street show was highly interactive and I needed plenty of volunteers from the crowd to make it work. My habits around eliciting audience participation, however, were not very mindful of the volunteers themselves. I mostly insisted, demanded and dragged people (sort of playfully) up on stage.
Street performers are often faced with some of the same crowd dynamics that riot police use tear gas to deal with. The term “crowd control” is equally as relevant to the open-air performer as it is to law enforcement professionals. How a performer remains in charge of an audience depends upon exercising habits of connection, competent engagement, and finesse rather than force.
A good street show is essentially a series of well-executed team building activities.
Newbie performers often start with ways of engaging their audience in ways they’ve seen work for other entertainers. If they’re adventurous, then they might try their own ideas and experiment with interactive elements and routines that will keep their crowd interested.
I myself had one engagement stunt that grabbed the audience’s attention by using shock and surprise. The routine involved obtaining a few male volunteers from the audience to help me with a juggling trick.
Running into the crowd at one performance, I selected the man I wanted to join me up front. I picked him because he had an obviously impressive physique, which was important for the success of this particular bit.
Team Building Training — the Hard Way
On this occasion, I ran into an immediate obstacle.
Though large and well proportioned, the “volunteer” resisted my invitation. He fit what I needed so precisely that I forced the issue and led the assembled crowd in a chant that didn’t abate until he agreed to come up and participate. He finally relented and reluctantly came to the stage with me.
Ordinarily, once I have the man on stage, I move close and indicate through my body language that he looks tense and needs to relax. I dodge behind him and help him loosen up, massaging his shoulders as if he were a prize fighter between rounds, and then get him to perform some silly dance moves.
It wasn’t uncommon that the person I picked would be withdrawn at first, but most often he would give in to the fun and start playing along, which delighted the audience and made it more enjoyable for him. The man I had chosen on this occasion, however, didn’t appear to be warming to the theatrics.
The next part of the interaction involves my enticing the volunteer to copy my actions as I loosely shake my hands, arms, and then face—presumably to relax and let the tension go.
This he did, but without much enthusiasm.
I then lift my arms in the air with an expectant look, at which point the participant usually responds by stretching up in the same way. Then, in one quick motion, I reach down, grab the tails of the man’s T-shirt, then lift it up over his head and arms and off his body in a blink.
This is why I always pick a man who has an impressive physique, because then he gets to enjoy showing off his exceptional build in front of the crowd.
On this day, however, in accordance with my old habits, I had simply forced the circumstance.
Not wanting to be there at all, this volunteer looked at me blankly—and I at him.
“Can I have my shirt back now?” he said, finding none of the amusement in it that was intended. I prompted the audience to give the man a big hand for being a good sport and he quickly left the stage and disappeared into the crowd.
Wikipedia defines team building activities as exercises that are designed “to enhance social relations.” The stunts that can sometimes create a real sense of fun and camaraderie can also backfire. The nature of such live theater on the street is that things don’t always work. You do your best in such instances and move on. That’s show business.
I went to my prop case to get the equipment I needed for the next routine, the juggling of five balls. After gathering them in my hands, I turned toward the audience, my back now to the case.
In the meantime, unbeknownst to me, the volunteer I had just dismissed had circled around the outskirts of the crowd. Sneaking up behind me past the prop case at my back—before I was aware of his presence—he silently moved close enough to grab the bottom hem of my shorts and drop them briskly to my ankles.
As my volunteer darted away I was left standing naked, waist down, in a crowd of five hundred people.
The Living Nightmare That Taught Me a Lasting Lesson
It was a real-life, daytime version of the I’m-somehow-naked-in-a-crowd nightmare.
It was a far bigger shock than I had wanted to deliver to my audience, especially at the cost of the greatest embarrassment of my life. As you might imagine, some of the audience found it absolutely hilarious. Others were so embarrassed along with me that they departed the scene immediately out of discomfort. Needless to say, this was not a team building activity that enhanced social relations.
What the incident taught me was that I needed to practice more mindfulness regarding the state of my volunteers and to make sure that my connection to and respect of them was top priority.
Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, recently reported in a New York Times article about a trip he made to the famed Google campus, where research was being conducted on the secret of team building,
Google’s intense data collection and number crunching have led it to the same conclusions that good managers have always known. In the best teams, members listen to one another and show sensitivity to feelings and needs.”
It all comes down to our willingness to consider the other person’s perspective, to take a breath in the midst of our agenda and consider the needs, feelings and perspectives of the person we’re dealing with.
To exercise control in the absence of connection eventually results in the loss of control, since it’s only a matter of time before someone who goes unacknowledged and is left disconnected finds an opportunity to counter our will with their own.
Many of us in leadership positions hold the belief that control must be maintained to avoid the breakdown of the structures we are responsible for—our families, companies, or communities—and that to open ourselves to others’ points of view would be to weaken our authority.
Unquestionably, it is important that we maintain our authority as parents of our children and as leaders of the organizations and businesses we serve. Yet, there is a crucial distinction to be made between the natural influence we enjoy through relationship and the control we are forced to resort to in its absence.
The Blueprint for Building Great Teams is available for free to our members. If you’re already signed up, just head on over to the Freedom Vault and hop into the course.
If you’re not signed up yet, you can easily get your free membership here.
Go ahead. Practice Happiness.