I recently started taking Zumba classes again. I know that sounds so “2012” of me, but I was looking for a quick and easy cardio class, and Zumba fit the bill. For those of you not familiar with Zumba, it involves highly choreographed moves set to upbeat music. Given the “highly choreographed” nature of the class, you can, at times, feel like an uncoordinated goofball if you aren’t familiar with the routine. Even so, as soon as the music started, I remembered how much I loved Zumba. Mostly, I love the fact that trying to follow the routine keeps my mind off working out.
As the class started, I homed in on the instructor and followed her every step. And as it turns out, just like riding a bicycle, you don’t forget the standard Zumba routines. A little grapevine, two-step, mamba….and I was at it again! Of course, as a hard-core rule follower, I had to keep a close eye on the instructor throughout the class to ensure I was doing the moves correctly. And I was quite proud of myself that, for the most part, I was able to keep up.
About 10 minutes into the class, I was really feeling myself and I even allowed my eyes to wander (ever so slightly) off the instructor. That’s when I saw her. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her arms flailing about, her hips swaying back and forth, and NONE of her moves were part of the routine. I was fascinated. Ok, to be honest, at first, I was a little annoyed. I thought, “why isn’t she even TRYING to follow the routine?” It was like she was in her own world. My eyes kept darting back and forth from the instructor (“1,2,3, left, 1,2,3 right…”) to the woman in the corner of the room, just doing her own thing. It distracted me for a good 15 minutes until I noticed something significant. The woman was smiling from ear to ear. She looked to me like she didn’t have a care in the world, just enjoying the music, the energy, her body. All of it. And when I saw her, really saw her, it made me feel…free. I thought - this woman, and her carefree, in-the-moment attitude, is giving me permission to let go too. By charting her own course for the class, she injected a new energy into the entire group that was dynamic, fun, and completely non-judgmental.
What does this have to do with leadership you ask? Well, regardless of how objective we believe ourselves to be, most people-leaders tend to hire team members who are just like…. themselves. It’s called affinity bias, or personal bias, and it’s one of the most common interviewing pitfalls. Left unchecked, this can lead to the building of homogeneous teams that engage in group think. In the worst-case scenarios, teams can become resistant, stale, and closed off to innovation.
The woman in my Zumba class showed the value of having someone approach a task (in this case, a cardio class) in an entirely new way, and in doing so, exceeded expectations. Did she achieve her goal and get a solid workout? Yes. But in addition, did she make others feel more comfortable if they strayed from the “norm” and tried something different? Absolutely. Also, did she enjoy herself during the process, which in turn, made it more likely for her to come to class again? You bet.
If your team members had permission to try something new without fear of being “called out” or chastised for not following the status quo, what would that mean for your business? For innovation? Productivity? Employee retention? Next time you have a business challenge you can’t solve, step away from the norm and consider the unconventional approach. The divergent thinker. The alternative opinion. You might just two-step your way to a creative solution.
Shannon Clark Johnston