wedding couple dancing

Ah, June. Month of weddings. Month of first dances for so many couples. For some, learning to dance the perfect dance can be just as beneficial and effective as premarital counseling. For me, this one activity became an object lesson in how to lead and how to follow – on and off the dance floor.

There we were in the middle of the dance floor, learning the box step and trying to remember the fancy add-ons we had learned the lesson before. And as the music played – the romantic and meaningful music that we would dance to as our first dance – I dropped his hands in frustration and stopped mid-box like a three year old with a broken toy. Being the (self-appointed) better dancer, I had pushed against my fiancé, forcing him into the positions I knew were the right next steps. He, of course, was trying to lead and pushing back.

For the first time in our series of dance lessons I completely lost my cool and fell into a sobbing blob of frustrated tears. This is a big deal, see, because I hate to cry in front of people. It doesn’t matter if you are my mom, dad, best friend, fiancé, I just don’t want you to see me break.

But at that moment, I was broken. My full-time marketing job, my full-time wedding planning job (because I couldn’t give control over to a planner, of course), and my inability to control this dance finally got the best of me.

That’s when I knew I had just come face to face with one of my biggest enemies in life: the need to control – the need to lead. The need didn’t come purely from a desire to be in front but to control the result. The need stemmed from a fear that saying goodbye to control meant saying hello to certain chaos. Were I to let him lead fully, there would continue to be an opportunity for failure. He could (gasp!) mess up. It never occurred to me that I could be the one who could cause a dance-floor snafu. And let’s be honest here: I’m a long way from dancing with the stars.

But we can’t control everything, can we? When it comes right down to it, we can control our words, our thoughts, our reactions, our actions, and we can even map out the worst-case scenarios and what we might do to avoid them (this is what makes me a really great risk manager, by the way). Being able to do this kind of planning creates a sense of comfort and security. We think we’ve got it under control but our sense of comfort is false.

The fact remains that there is not one itty bitty, teeny tiny amount of control we have over others words, thoughts, reactions or actions. This means that we can never really be in control – not over everything, not all the time and certainly not over other people. What we can do is create stress, anger, and frustration trying to make the uncontrollable fit into our box of known perspectives. It’s exhausting.

Oh. So I must surrender.

Once I gathered my composure, I stepped back on to the floor and into the arms of the man who, despite my best efforts to show him every reason why he shouldn’t, chose then and chooses now to love me. He graciously accepted me back and acknowledged that we might mess up, but we would likely be the only ones who ever knew. At that moment I trusted him, gave over control and let him lead.

The surprising impact of this small step was a liberation that I hadn’t expected. If we succeeded flawlessly, the dance would be beautiful. If we messed up, it wouldn’t be my fault. Oh joy, oh rapture. I could enjoy the act of dancing instead of worrying about getting it perfect. By the time the wedding came around, I had some idea what the steps were but had forgotten most. I reveled in the knowledge that my partner had the responsibility for remembering the detail and making the beauty of the choreography happen.

Ha HA! Victory!

Maybe you’re a leader of a team of people but you don’t know how to let go because you’re afraid they might not get it right. Maybe you are trying the best you can to keep a project from failing and feel like dropping hands in frustration. Could it be that what makes leaders great is knowing when it’s time to stop fighting to maintain the lead and time to start imagining the possibilities that exist in following?

Lead or follow, but make the best decision for the dance. Either stop dancing altogether or get back on the floor and try again.

In ballroom dancing, there must be two in the pair. The tango isn’t the tango with just one person; it’s a weirdo on a dance floor waiting for his or her video to go viral. However, being the leader is much like being the Highlander: there can be only one.  Remember your stance, listen to the music, and trust your partner. More than likely if you mis-step, no one will notice but you.

Do you struggle with the need to lead too? How do you conquer your fear of giving up control and how does it feel when you can actually let go? Share your comments, they might encourage others to step out and do the same!

Tara is a speaker, coach and writer who works with others to define what success means to them and helps them map a practical path to achieving it. You can follow her at taralynnfoster.comlinkedintwitter or Facebook.