Lead Boldy, Follow Ardently

The Diamond Dance

A couple of weeks ago I was leading an exercise during a rehearsal with my Improv group.  In this exercise, people are placed in a diamond formation, like this, all facing in the same direction.

They then have to move around the room as a group, with the person at the front leading. So when they are all facing towards the blue person, blue is leading, and everyone behind moves with them, in step and keeping pace. If blue swivels 90° towards red, everyone else swivels too, red is now at the front, and red leads. And so on, so that as the group move apparently as one, the leadership passes seamlessly and wordlessly between the people at the corners. It’s a simple, fun, experiential way to practice good team work, good leadership, good followership, sensitivity and flexibility. When people get really good at it, the fun next step is to put some music on, and turn it into The Diamond Dance – the person at the front leads the moves, and everyone else stays in sync. When done well it looks so good you could almost believe it’s choreographed.

Anyway, on this occasion, the group was struggling a bit. Those leading were tending to either stride off at an odd angle without warning, leaving everyone else behind, or to move too tentatively while trying to look round anxiously and see what everyone was doing, and in the process giving unclear and unsure signals making it paradoxically harder to follow. To compound the problem, the followers themselves had a tendency to hesitate as they waited to see what was coming next. This caused them to drift from their position, disturbing the way the group was set out, and leading to much confusion, and especially muddled handovers during the transitions. In an attempt to overcome this, and to help them co-ordinate better, I heard myself call out “Lead Boldly, Follow Ardently!” And I immediately knew I had hit upon something.

 “Lead Boldy, Follow Ardently.” We were only playing a simple, silly game, yet surely, this is a phrase that can improve any team situation. The leader (note, small “l” – you don’t have to be a Leader to be in the lead) of any team effort needs to move boldly forward, giving clear and confident direction without ambiguity, hesitance or confusion. The followers (small “f” for same reason) can help enormously by showing complete and instant and support, responding flexibly to changes, and providing constant feedback. And if everyone is in the right place at the right time, the lead can be passed seamlessly from one to another as needed. When done well, it looks so good you could almost believe it’s choreographed!

1 comment to Lead Boldy, Follow Ardently

  • peter

    Hi there, I was looking for an activity to emphasise systems thinking and I think this might just do the trick. Thanks so much. Great blog too by the way.

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