Trevor Copp and Jeff Fox have had successful careers as competitive ballroom dancers and instructors. While dancing together for fun at parties, they started developing a “playing fair” method of sharing the lead. When dramaturge Lisa O’Connell saw them playfully yet elegantly trading the leader/follower roles back and forth within a single dance, her first response was, “Do you have any idea how political that was?”
Her inquiry led to an eight-year collaboration to create a play. Through that process, Copp and Fox not only further developed their system for switching roles in dance; they also explored the impact of being locked into and defined by a single role. They pushed the boundaries of ballroom dance to create the concept they now call “Liquid Lead.” Their work becomes a powerful metaphor for pushing the boundaries in leadership as well.
In dance, Liquid Lead means moving in and out of lead/follow roles while still remaining fully who you are in your strength and power. Looking beyond dance, the concept of Liquid Lead can teach us a lot about the currently emerging paradigm of shared leadership.
In shared leadership, the various players shift in and out of different roles. For example, in the morning, you might lead a team as they work on one particular aspect of a project. Then in the afternoon, you might step out of the leadership into the role of team member as someone else takes the lead on another aspect of the project. Or perhaps in one moment you are following the energy of what wants to happen, allowing the potential itself to be the leader. An hour later, you are translating the understanding of what the potential is asking for to the people you are leading in that moment. Liquid Lead in dance helps us understand more about what shared leadership in organizations and systems could look like.
The concept of Liquid Lead invites you to step into the flow of what is happening, sense the particular role where you can be most effective for the moment, and step into that role. In a particular project or situation, you might vacillate between the roles of leader, follower, co-creator, partner, listener, or advocate. You might even find yourself making up new roles because that’s what is needed at the time. It’s all about sensing what wants to happen next and responding in service to that unfolding potential. When you are truly in the flow, your next role will often find you.
Trevor Copp and Jeff Fox introduce Liquid Lead in their entertaining yet also beautifully moving 2015 TEDx Montreal Talk (see below). Through dancing and sharing their story, they show us the freedom, power, and gracefulness that can emerge when we step past the boundaries of set roles and identities and allow ourselves to flow with what the moment is asking for.
Jeff Fox comments that every time they demonstrate Liquid Lead, whether in a conference or in a dance club, it never fails to engage the onlookers. He explains, “The secret lies in what made Lisa see our initial demonstration as ‘political.’ It wasn’t just that we were switching lead and follow; it’s that we stayed consistent in our presence, our personality, and our power, regardless of which role we were playing. We were still ‘us,’ and that’s where the true freedom lies – not just the freedom to switch roles, but the freedom from being defined by whichever role you are playing – the freedom to always remain true to yourself.”
Trevor Copp sums it all up by saying that Liquid Lead takes us back to what partner dancing was really always about at its essence: “the fine art of taking care of each other.”
Isn’t that what being together in relationship, in community, and in service is ultimately all about?
Thank you Jeff Fox and Trevor Copp for this beautiful expression of shared leadership and co-creation. Enjoy the video.
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