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Leadership in the Spotlight

| December 19, 2023

by Rachel Groenhout

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Dr. Rachel Groenhout, Director of Data and Change Management at Colby College. She is a recent MOR alum.  Rachel may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

Editorial Note: This is the last Tuesday Reading of 2023.  The next Tuesday Reading will be in January.

Recently, I went to New York City to see Hamilton live on Broadway after a few years of enjoying the soundtrack’s unique style. While I took in the imposing set before the show commenced, the MOR exercise of Leadership as a Performance Art (LPA) came into my mind. In the MOR conceptualization of LPA, the focus is on analyzing our own leadership roles that we tend to play (e.g., Planner, Visionary, etc.) and reflecting on what leadership roles are most needed in any given situation. While we may, as individuals and as leaders, tend towards specific roles or functions, we can exercise our leadership muscles to lean more deeply into roles that may not be our most comfortable ones. In this way, LPA encourages us to expand the repertoire of characters/roles that we can play–and indeed are willing to play–beyond our own natural selves.

Opposing Roles

In the musical Hamilton, two of the main characters are similarly ambitious, but each utilize their own favorite strategy to achieve their goals. While Alexander Hamilton embraces a bold seize-the-day philosophy, Aaron Burr exhibits a quietly opportunistic approach. When Hamilton sees the glimmer of an opportunity, he pounces, loudly and publicly, proclaiming: “I am NOT throwing away my shot!” In contrast, when Burr sees an opportunity, he carefully calculates who and what he can subtly influence to get what he wants, switching political parties and betraying his friends to capitalize on opportunities.

When Hamilton and Burr first meet in the musical, Burr gives Hamilton political advice:

Talk less, smile more:

Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for…

Fools who run their mouths often wind up dead.

A few moments later comes Hamilton’s icy retort:

If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?!

While listening to the Hamilton soundtrack over the past few years, I have often compared the two characters’ vastly differing approaches. Only through the MOR Leadership as a Performance Art exercise did I begin to think about the phenomenal leader that could be by combining Hamilton’s boldness with Burr’s political maneuvering. While each man led with his own natural style, those styles fit some situations better than others. Leadership as a Performance Art encourages us to cultivate additional roles beyond our most comfortable ones. LPA shows us what we can gain by expanding our repertoire rather than perfecting a particular role that may be our most natural one.

Intentionally Rotating Roles in the Spotlight

If Hamilton and Burr were leaders in our organizations, neither style—individually—would be entirely successful. Like Hamilton, we should dare to lead from where we are. Like Burr, we should be mindful to read the political landscape and not take the spotlight when doing so puts a target on our backs. And, of course, many other roles should be added to our repertoires.

As I contemplate this expansion of characters and leadership roles, the mantra “Be Intentional” consistently answers the question: Why this style? Why now? What next? Great leaders thoughtfully step up, step forward, step back, and step aside as contexts evolve. We need broad repertoires and intentionality to select the most appropriate character to place in the spotlight at each moment. And we must remember to step out of the spotlight often; the fact that “the answer is in the room” is not enough if we don’t clear the stage and invite those who might otherwise remain silent to step into the spotlight.

Choosing Leading Roles

Leadership as a Performance Art encourages us to thoughtfully consider which roles to leverage, at which times, and for which desired outcomes. Though we might tend to continuously inhabit a role that best fits our personality, our style, or our role in our organization, the challenge is to get on the balcony and observe holistically. What role do we lean into for a given purpose? Who do we usher off-stage to allow another character to take the spotlight? As we perform/lead day after day and week after week, if we observe and reflect from the balcony, we will more accurately assess, for example, when the Visionary should lead and the Planner should follow (and vice versa).

I am challenging myself to observe and reflect, and to adopt leadership roles I haven’t typically inhabited in the past to broaden my repertoire of characters I can effectively (and–perhaps in time–comfortably) play. While we need to emulate more characters than just Hamilton and Burr, I find the dueling personalities to be a helpful illustration of how vastly different leaders choose to lead. Ultimately, each leadership style we enact is a choice. What leadership roles will you choose to further develop and challenge yourself to more frequently bring into the spotlight?

As you consider Leadership as a Performance Art and the roles you play, where do you most want to focus?

Last week we asked which is hardest to keep in balance for you as a leader?

  • 41% said being decisive.
  • 32% said being empathetic.
  • 27% said being reasonable.

Considering our readership base as a whole, keeping reasonableness in balance as a leader tends to come easiest whereas being decisive is the hardest to keep in balance for over 2 our of every 5 readers. For those of you interested in sharpening your decisiveness skill set, check out this previous Tuesday Reading on the Understand, Recognize, Analyze, Decide, and Implement decision-making framework.