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Chelsea: I have always loved having strong leaders on my dance team, but sometimes the dancer who is chosen to be that formal leader turns out to be a nightmare. I've personally had a few challenges with this when I coached, and I hear from coaches I work with now who are burnt out and frustrated by poor leadership.
One coach recently reached out for help and said she was at a loss because her leader was not stepping up at all. Good leaders can motivate others and help the rest of the team stay positive. But what do you do when you have a leader who is lazy or not showing up or, worse, blatantly breaking the rules? Well, let's talk about it.
Hi, I'm Dr. Chelsea, and this is Passion for Dance, the show for passionate dance teachers and coaches. I want to change the dance industry by creating happier, more successful dancers. And great leadership is one way we can accomplish that. Leaders who are happy and effective will create a team of hardworking dancers who enjoy their time together. A negative leader though, can ruin an entire season. And I want to say that this isn't just school teams with formal leaders. Not all school teams have named captains or officers, and many studios don't elect formal leaders either (I certainly never had those leaders as a studio dancer myself), but you still have leadership personalities in your program. You still have dancers that everyone listens to. Sometimes it's the strongest technical dancer. Sometimes it's just the loudest, most vocal dancer. Sometimes it's the most popular.
So even if you don't have formal leaders, you might still have dancers who are leading others in the wrong direction, and this could help. So don't give up on them yet. So if you have a leader who isn't stepping up, whether they be a formal captain or just a senior at your studio, if they're not doing their job, here are two clear approaches to fix the problem while mentoring your athlete to be a stronger, positive presence for your program.
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Welcome to the Passion for Dance podcast. I’m Dr. Chelsea, a former professional dancer and dance team coach turned sport psychologist. This podcast focuses on four main pillars: motivation, resilience, mindset, and community. Each week, you’ll learn actionable strategies, mindsets, and tips to teach your dancers more than good technique. This is a podcast where we can all make a lasting impact and share our passion for dance. Let’s do this!
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What to Do When a Leader Falls Short – 2:29
I see it happen all the time. We select our team leaders for the season. Everything starts off great. We feel confident in the seniors of our program to step up, be the leaders we need. And then sometimes they just fall short. The qualities that lead us to have faith in them as leaders in the first place aren't showing up in rehearsals anymore. The team's commitment level is wavering. Our leaders aren't stepping up. It is so frustrating as a coach, and it can feel defeating. It's easy to give up on them and just be the coach and the captain for a while and just take it all on yourself. Say, “Fine, I'll just do it myself. Maybe next year we'll be better.”
I have actually relieved captains of their duties before, and I've had junior captains not return as leaders the next year. I've also had juniors who I really wanted to be a strong leader, but they were being lazy, and I needed them to step it up before gaining the title. It's not just going to be handed to you. But I learned a lot with these challenging leaders, and sometimes I know it's tempting to want to just throw in the towel and say, “Forget it. I won't have leaders. I'll do it myself.” But I think there's a better way because, see, the bigger problem is when you really thought you had a good leader and maybe things were going really well all summer, but then you get into the thick of competition season and the leader’s no longer doing their job.
I think it's harder when they start out great and then everything starts to falter when your season really gets intense. Maybe leaders are showing up late or they're talking back, creating drama in group chats. The most damaging, in my opinion, is when a leader goes against your vision and values privately to the team. Maybe it's a group text chat without you, or during side conversations after rehearsals, leaders who talk about how much they hate the routine or think the costume is ugly or how they believe there's no chance for success at competition, so why bother having another practice, those are the most dangerous leaders, the ones who are actively going against your programs, values, and goals.
The leaders who don't step up to be positive or who are actively working against you can destroy what would otherwise be a season of hard work, joy, and success. But you don't need to just accept that as your reality. If leaders aren't showing up and fulfilling their duties, there are some simple action steps you can take to salvage the situation and teach your leaders how to be the positive role model you know they can be.
Hi, dance coaches and teachers! If you are a dance educator, it's important to make sure you are on my email list. It's only for educators. It's where I keep you all updated on my mental skills workshops, the Relevé Membership, and even some special trainings coming up that are only available inside the membership.
My email list is where I provide extra resources for dance educators and tips to help you and support you through this teaching journey. If you're listening and you're a coach or a studio teacher, and you think you might ever want to learn more about helping your dancers with their mindset, building their resilience, and motivating them, please join my list to make sure you get the inside scoop.
So, here's how to get on. You go to www.chelseapierotti.com/email and sign up. There's a link in the show notes to the episode as well. And again, that's where I'll announce special opportunities, like the one coming up soon, that's only available inside Relevé, but mostly it's where I provide more support and resources to help you with your dancers.
So go join in at www.chelseapierotti.com/email, and let's work together and make a more positive impact on our dance industry!
Whenever I'm working with a coach who's struggling with leadership, I talk to them about two things that need to happen. Try to get to the bottom of why that dancer isn't leading and get ready for a challenging but necessary conversation with that leader. Deal with this head on.
Step One: Evaluate Why They Aren’t Leading – 6:53
So step one, evaluate why they aren't leading. I really think it's important to pause first and try to understand why your leader isn't fulfilling the role. We often don't know everything that's going on. So maybe something happened at home that has changed their ability to lead. Maybe something changed in their friendships. Ensure you check in on their well-being and mental health. Determine if they can handle the extra leadership role. Sometimes life gets unexpectedly challenging and maybe they're no longer in a good place to be the leader you need them to be. So take a moment to stop and check in. Make sure they still have the capacity to be a good role model. I have found that simple check in can clarify everything.
One time, I had a leader who was being just lazy and kind of rude in practice, and we had a little check in where I shared my concerns, and more concerns over her well-being. I said, “You're not being yourself. Is something going on?” and she admitted that her little sister was going through a serious medical issue, and she was scared and not sleeping well. I had no idea. She hadn't really shared it with her friends either. So we talked about it. She ultimately decided she loved dance. She needed that positive thing in her day, so she was going to stay with the team, but she wasn't in the right headspace to lead, so she graciously stepped down.
As hard as it can be, if they're being lazy or rude, we just want to fix the issue and move on. But try to determine if your leader has given up on everything or just dance. Are they giving up on classwork too? Are they pulling away from friends? Or is everything else okay and they're just being lazy with the team? That can help you understand whether this is a dance issue or a life issue. Are they struggling with motivation in school? Are they not as engaged with their friends as they usually are? There may be signs that something bigger is going on and they aren't in a good place to be your leader. You can acknowledge that, discuss it, determine if maybe now isn't the time to hold them to that leadership role.
On the other hand, if they are still ready to be that leader, ask them what they view as their role on the team. I found sometimes leaders who are trying to be leaders, and they want to be, but they aren't doing the right behaviors that you're looking for, actually just don't know what to do. Sometimes leaders shy from stepping into that role because they're not sure what that role is exactly. Maybe another leader or another senior has a stronger presence, so the leader you're worried about doesn't feel like they can lead with that group or doesn't know how to be that strong personality, so they default to like, “Well, I don't fit anywhere, so I won't worry about it,” and then they come across as lazy.
If they aren't showing up how you expect or what you wanted, they may not understand how they fit into your leadership team. Talk to them about your clear expectations and how their talents can serve the team. Everyone leads differently. If you help your dancers understand what it is about them that makes them a good leader, you can help them step into their shoes as their leader for your program. I've seen this simple conversation about defining leadership roles go a long way to help leaders step up. Especially if the leader isn't technical or is injured.
Sometimes leaders start being negative during choreography if they don't like their spot in formation. They might need a reminder about their role on and off the floor and how you see their leadership personality isn't really about dance. There are other qualities that you really need from them. If they understand what you see in them as a leader, it could be the strength they never considered in themselves.
I had it happen one year that a really strong leader was injured mid-season, and it was devastating for everyone. And there was a short amount of time where she really struggled, and you could see the mood was bringing down the team. I don't blame her. It was devastating for her senior year, but we had a conversation. I said, “How can you be a leader when you're not on the floor anymore? What else can we do?” And we brainstormed about her other talents, the many, many other reasons she was a leader besides her ability to perform, and we came up with a plan that led her to have a clear set of expectation and a clear role on the team so that she was able to lean into that and still be a huge part of that season.
Another time I had one leader who was a part of a group of three. The other two were the strongest dancer and the strongest choreographer, so the third felt a little lost. She was great in her own right, but the other two were pretty clearly the strongest. And so she started to be a little lazy and just very unlike herself. When we talked, I told her the whole reason I saw her as a leader was her way of quietly connecting with all the other dancers. She wasn't loud, which was a huge asset to many of them because the strong personalities of the other two could kind of scare off or be a little intimidating to the younger dancers.
I saw her strength as a leader in her ability to show leadership through quiet hard work and connection. She told me she never saw herself that way, that she thought she had to be that loud, boisterous up-in-front, but once we talked about it, it clicked, and she stepped into that role with great success.
So, first, try to determine why they aren't leading. Maybe something else is going on and they aren't in the right place to lead anymore, or maybe they're just lost and unsure of how they're supposed to lead.
Step Two: Have an Honest Conversation – 12:23
Step two, once you've had that time to explore, you have to have an honest conversation, coach to leader or teacher to senior, whatever that relationship is. Have an honest conversation. And I want to pause here and just talk a little bit more about these hard conversations, because once you've determined that maybe a little stern correction needs to happen, there's still a positive coaching approach to doing it well.
Positive coaching isn't just about everything being positive and happy all the time. You can still have expectations and boundaries and hold your dancers to those boundaries. That goes with your leaders as well. You can still have that corrective conversation but do it with this positive-coaching approach.
So during this conversation, ask before you complain. Start with questions about what's going on. Is there something you're not aware of (again, at school, at home, with friends), and simply, how do you feel you're doing as a leader? I feel starting with that question opens up a bigger conversation. You're not starting off on an attack. You're not starting off listing all the things you're annoyed about, even if that list is super long, but you're starting off with putting it in their court. How do you feel you're doing as a leader?
Then you can share your feelings about what you've witnessed. And, again, it's not about blame. It's using “I” statements and the actions that you're seeing or not seeing. So you can think about using “I” statements, things like, “When you don't show up to practice on time, I feel like you don't want to lead anymore,” or “When you talk negatively about the routine, that makes me feel like you're not holding up your promise as a leader.”
You can be honest and explicit about where that dancer's falling short and your expectations for the role. Then find out what your leader wants. Do they want to step up into this role or not? Are they ready to commit as a leader and its expectations or not? If you truly listen, and they aren't actually ready, that's okay. I think you can accept that and validate the importance of honesty and let it be. It's much better to have a leader who can't fulfill the role step down than continue as a leader without really doing the job.
Hopefully, if they are really committed to stepping into that role, you set clear action steps for the next two weeks. What exactly do you want to see from this leader to demonstrate their commitment? Again, it's actions. What specifically do you want to see in practice? What communication needs to happen? You have to set up that clear expectation and a plan for meeting two weeks later to reassess. Put it on the calendar. Make sure it's fully laid out. That gives your dancer a chance to change and be the leader you both hoped for. And if they can't turn it around, it shows clear evidence of their lack of leadership and support, if you have to ask them to step down.
Now, these honest conversations are hard, and I am not a confrontational person. I really struggled with these for a long time, but I finally started to learn more of the positive-coaching approach to it where being clear and honest and kind all go together, even if you're delivering hard information.
If you want a little more on this, I actually have a whole episode just on difficult communication. It's Episode 112: Seven Tips for Effective Communication Between Coaches and Athletes. So if you're like me and confrontation averse, you don't want to do it, or you know it's hard for you, listen into that episode for more help.
But part of our role as coaches and teachers is to be models for how to have those hard conversations. It's all about personal growth, teaching our dancers to have honest self-reflection. If your team leaders aren't stepping up, don't give up on them right away or sit in silent frustration. Use this as a teaching moment. If we can teach our dancers what it means to have honest self-reflection when things are not going well, and then plan for how to turn it around, we're giving them one of the greatest life lessons that will carry with them long after they graduate from your program.
So I hope this helps. You've got this, coach! Be the leader they need. Show them what a strong, effective leader looks like. Thank you for listening and keep sharing your passion for dance with the world!
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