Booker T. Washington said, “Most leaders spend time trying to get others to think highly of them, when instead they should try to get their people to think more highly of themselves. It’s wonderful when the people believe in their leader. It’s more wonderful when the leader believes in their people! You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.” What kind of leader are you?
Whether you are a belly dance teacher, troupe leader, or solo professional, you ARE a leader. You lead students, a group of belly dancers or stand out as the representative for what belly dance is in your community. When people see you, you are belly dance! You may not have asked for this responsibility, but it comes with the territory. So once again, I ask you, “What kind of leader are you?”
If you are not sure, ask yourself:
Do I Provide Clear Instruction on How to Succeed?
Without clear guidelines it’s difficult to gauge progress. Students may struggle with the same problems over and over never improving. Students may not know what is wrong or how to fix it. Belly dance students may not know what “good” or “bad” looks like.
A good leader travels the same path that she would have her students travel. She is a living example. The path is clear so that everyone knows when they are on it. If one should fall off, it’s easy to return to it. The path has enough detail that students can reasonably fill in the blanks, but not so much detail that it becomes inflexible. This path provides a foundation upon which all learning occurs. It makes sense. It goes from A to B and is a reflection of the leader’s vision.
Do I Motivate My Students to Stay on Track?
It’s not enough to have a plan and clear instruction. A good leader also motivates belly dance students to do well. The easiest way to do this is to praise success. I have seen many teachers who praise everything. This isn’t effective because it isn’t praise that creates excellence, but praise for doing well. Once that goal is reached, give praise when they hit the next one. It’s a delicate balance. If you praise too rarely, students may not have the motivation to continue on. If you praise too much, students may not grow. If you praise for things that are not accomplishments, students will stagnate. With the right praise, progress is swift and continuous.
Red flags are negative reinforcement or deliberately avoiding praise when it is due. If either of these things occur, it could be a sign that the desire is to have students who believe in the leader not themselves.
Do I Demonstrate Consistency and Integrity?
The standards that we have for ourselves and others should be the same. Empowering leaders live the example they want others to follow. If you say that you believe in fair pricing, how do you demonstrate that? By what standards do you advance your students? What criteria do you use to assign solos? Do you treat people the way you want to be treated?
Do I Encourage Creativity?
It’s easier to follow a tried and true path than to blaze your own trail, but at some point students with a sound foundation will want to incorporate what they know with what they love. This should be encouraged. Growth requires expansion. Not all efforts will be good, but the confidence that comes from trying irreplaceable.
Do I Welcome Questions, Criticism and Self-Reflection?
It’s easy to get comfortable in a position of leadership. It’s probably natural to want to protect that image, but if you don’t allow questions, criticisms and self-examination, you will likely find yourself stagnating. Just as your followers need creativity and growth, so do you. Questions and criticism are tools for growth. If you find something wrong or not as good as it could be, address it! Even if it turns out that there is nothing wrong, the questions may lead you to see things in another way or open up a new direction. When you aren’t afraid of questions, you show your students that they shouldn’t be either. This creates an attitude of lifelong learning.
Do I Have a “We” vs. “Me” Attitude?
When you think in terms of the team, it’s easier to encourage, guide, and improve because the wins and losses are more personal. When one does well, everyone is lifted. When one has a disappointment, you have the strength of the team to help you bounce back.
Being in a position of power or having an audience does not make one a leader. Demonstrating leadership does. You can always use your position to build up yourself, but the only true way to make a difference is to share yourself with others. Nobody gets to the top by themselves. When you help others to reach their dreams, when you smooth the path for others to follow, the rewards extend much deeper than any trophy, pay check, thank-you note.