I am a dancer and dance teacher in addition to my role as Marketing and Sales Coordinator at ConvergenceCoaching®.  I teach mostly younger children ages 5-9 with one class of older students in middle school/high school. Twice a week, I zip off to the studio looking forward to the time spent sharing my love of dance with the next generation of dancers.

I had a revelation recently that my little ballerinas are not unlike NextGen leaders in your firms. Now I know what you’re thinking – how can we possibly compare 5-year-olds shaking out their sillies and dancing to Taylor Swift piano covers to your NextGen talent – but bear with me and I’ll explain.  

Your NextGen leaders and my little ballerinas are figuring it out as they go and we as leaders need to be patient and give them grace because we, too, were once in their ballet shoes.

Regardless of the length of time  spent at the studio, my dancers are still learning the behaviors and activities that will bring success, and I need to provide them with grace and space to make mistakes, which is not always easy. They’re learning the vocabulary, piecing together steps, and trying to apply corrections as best as they can. Your NextGen leaders are, too.

I’m a NextGen leader in my firm, learning the ropes and I need grace and space, too. Have you ever had a little too much feedback coming your way from either too many voices, or one voice on too many things all at once? That happens in ballet class, too. My dancers are taking what feedback they can and are working on applying it, but I am only seeing what they’ve missed. Instead of recognizing and praising them for getting their feet where they were supposed to be, I’m noticing their droopy arms.

As a leader, I need to step back and remember that I was once trying to get my feet to go in the right direction. After 22 years of practice, I should be able to get everything moving as expected with small adjustments here and there. How can I ask the same standard of someone who’s only been working at it for a year? The same can be said for our NextGen leaders who are just at the beginning of their journey. Expecting and accepting their mistakes and helping them gracefully learn and grow from them will ultimately make them stronger leaders. They will get there --  it just takes time.

People grow and learn on a spectrum – some are eager to be prima ballerinas some day, while others aren’t sure they want to dance at all. As experienced leaders guiding them, we need to build all of them up and provide them with their own avenues for greatness.

I know that not all of my students want to go on to be professional ballerinas or even dance next year, but that doesn’t mean I should stop investing in their growth and skills development. The same should be said for your NextGen leaders. Not everyone will go on to make partner or impact the accounting profession in the same way that you might envision. They may have different ambitions, values, or motivators at 27 than you did. That’s not to say they don’t enjoy their work or value their job, but it may fall elsewhere in their priorities and life-long goals – and that’s absolutely okay! However, that doesn’t mean that we give them less of ourselves. We still need to provide them with opportunities for growth and development along their journey.

Building confidence is a life-long pursuit and we must support our future leaders on their journey to becoming a confident leader.

My last class of the evening is jazz with my middle school and high schoolers and while we don’t shake out our sillies like we do with the younger dancers, the anxiety on their faces when asked to improvise for two 8-counts in a combination totally shocks me. And then, I need to remind myself that I was once in their shoes and absolutely dreaded the idea of having to make something up on the spot in front of my classmates. They are afraid to let loose and try because they don’t want to look weird or “mess up” in front of their peers.

As a leader who lacks confidence myself, its challenging to know exactly what to do to support my dancers in developing their own confidence. My solution is to be the dance teacher I know 15-year-old Caroline needed. Someone who cares about her students, sees them as people with potential, limitations and feelings that can’t be left at the door, makes the studio a safe space to make mistakes, and at the end of the day be one of their biggest supporters. In many ways, I need to listen to the ideas I offered readers in my previous blog, and walk down memory lane with my younger self and remember what it was like to be in their tutu.

Recently, to support my dancers in building their confidence I have:

  • Shared my experiences – good, bad, and embarrassing – because there’s value in being an authentic leader who shares vulnerably
  • I’ve incorporated more structured improvisational elements into different pieces of the class and set the standard that it’s okay to look different or unique – you’re here to dance for you
  • We’ve implemented structured peer feedback to work on giving and receiving feedback in a way that encourages growth by using the phrases “This is what I saw…”, “This is something you can think about next time…”, or “You did this really well, next time think about this…”

The path to building confidence is a long one, but I will be there along the way to support and encourage my dancers, so they can be confident individuals on and off stage.

So, the next time I’m in class wondering why none of my dancers have their arms in the right place, or you find yourself getting frustrated with the latest work product from your younger staff, think of 5 year-old Caroline and remember that they’re a beautiful work in progress.