The Dance of Leadership: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and Society by Robert B. Denhardt and Janet Denhardt

The Dance of Leadership: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and Society: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and SocietyThe Dance of Leadership: The Art of Leading in Business, Government, and Society by Robert B. Denhardt and Janet Denhardt

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I pulled this from a shelf in my office (leadership books acquired over time, more than a few I’ve not gotten to yet) and had hopes. In the first chapter, the authors observe “we think leading is something people do at all levels of society and in all areas of human endeavor.” While that should be intuitively obvious to the most casual observer, a quick survey of the body of work out there returns a majority targeting traditional leaders and how to improve. I find the best books on leadership are not the academic overwritings of say, Kouzes and Posner, or the annoying parables of Blanchard or Lencioni, but the ones that bring a different perspective, a non-traditional perspective (thus, my hopes). correlating the qualities of good leadership with dance, music and other arts should have been a winner.

To play the hands dealt, this falls short of having any real contribution to the repertoire. There are takeaways, but there is little depth. These are basics, with the difference of anecdotes culled, or more probably created, from the arts world.

Still, here are a few margin notes. Each chapter has four pseudo-anecdotes setting the expectations of the chapter topic. For the chapter titled “The Interplay of Space, Time, and Energy”, one was

An executive, sensing that where she sits in a crowded meeting will make a difference in the way people respond to her, moves instinctively toward the “head” of the table.”

Bad example. Or, rather, good example of an immature (sadly, traditional) leader. “Instinctively” is a problem. Good leaders think about things like that. For me, depends on the purpose of the meeting. If it is my meeting and I don’t want my presence to influence, I’ll sit to the side or back. I’m more interested in productive conversations than seeking my concurrence (well, it’s still needed, but not during the process!) It it is my meeting and I want my presence to influence – maybe I need to establish a direction, convey expectations, etc. – I will sit where I can “command” attention.

Artists see the world differently from other people. Their italics, and spot on. I like to populate the table with as many brains as needed plus more (one of the things I do is manage design and construction of capital facilities.) I value different perspectives.

In that same chapter (this is where the most value is, it seemed when I was done), the authors use a metaphor of moving between boxes and making an assumption moving steadily from box to box results in success, and making the mistake of thinking time stands still while in the various boxes. That they acknowledge boxes is good (and they fall into the trap of saying leaders need to “think outside the box”, not knowing there is always a box!)

In the chapter titled “Communicating in Images, Symbols, and Metaphors, the authors bring up Howard Gardner and his book Frames of Mind. Gardner posited multiple intelligences. I wasn’t totally on-board with Gardner, considering some of his “intelligences” skills rather than, well, intelligence, but that was just my take.

And my take here is that despite that different perspective, this does offer much.

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