Leadership skills or: lessons for life I learnt from Salsa dancing

Last Friday night I did something very unusual: I went Salsa dancing. After returning home from work I quickly changed clothes, picked up my fifteen-year-old dancing shoes (cream-colored with a heel hight of ten centimeters and slightly worn out) from the back of my closet, stuffed them into my handbag and – after having had a delicious all-you-can-eat-Sushi-feast at Nagoya with some friends – went dancing.  It was a strange feeling, since I hadn’t been out to dance in ages. And by “dancing” I don’t mean jumping around the gym on my own to crazy Zumba music (which I do all the time) or shaking my booty in the strobe lights of some club – I mean performing actual synchronized dance steps together with a partner without looking too dorky or stepping on each others toes all the time. And what can I say? It was awesome – not only in terms of fun, but also regarding the things dancing can teach us when it comes to leadership and communication. Yes, you read correctly: leadership and communication are key, just like at work, in private and in our everyday lives.

Lateral leadership

Unlike at work or in a relationship, the roles we have when it comes to dancing are predetermined from the beginning: the man is the leader and the woman is the follower. As an independent and modern woman this might bug me little bit, but a skilled man will lead his partner in such a way that she does not feel patronized or pushed around. Actually, there is a management concept called “lateral leadership” that totally matches the way a good male dancer should act. Wikipedia says: “Lateral leadership describes a situation of leadership without direct authority to issue instructions. […] Lateral leadership is mainly based on trust and understanding through the creation of a common framework of thought, in order to unite possibly different interests of the parties involved in a sustainable way. ” Heavy stuff, but if you think about it – this is exactly how, whilst dancing, a man should treat his partner: without giving explicit instructions, but simply by applying little nudges based on their common framework (the dance steps and variations they have learnt), the man can lead the woman to do what he wants (in this case: certain dance moves). In the end both partners can reach their common goal: to make it gracefully through the song without anybody getting hurt (this would be the “sustainable way”) and – ideally – without the lady feeling less independent.

Executive communication

Another thing that struck me as very fascinating was how  seamless the communication worked between me and my partner – without talking. You obviously cannot converse a lot while you are dancing because of the loud music and the fact that you have to concentrate on your own movements and the subtle nudges of your partner that are supposed to lead to nice variations. I actually enjoy shutting up and communicating on a non-verbal level only (since this is quite the opposite of what I do in my job and, basically, everywhere else). But it only works on the premise that both partners are sensitive to the signals their counterpart sends out: dancing is all about body language and picking up the little hints resulting from your counterparts posture, tensed muscles and maybe also facial expressions, which is why I was surprised how well it worked without any training at all. Coming to think of it, dancing with a partner for me contains all the features a good relationship should have: trust, equality, tension (the good kind of tension that fosters personal development), a common rhythm, shared interests and some level of non-verbal understanding. If you have all that with your partner, what can go wrong?

Teambuilding measures

When it comes to dancing, a man and a woman need to be a team. There is no way they can sweep over the dance floor without cooperating with each other. They need to laugh away little mistakes, listen to each other carefully and they must not get tired of starting all over again and again. So – to learn how to dance as a couple is, in my eyes, the best way to make two individual people feel united. And maybe the whole thing can also be scaled to more than just two people. Thinking about all the silly team building events and workshops I went through in the past years I cannot remember one single time where I thought: “Yes, this is something I am gonna pick up and use in real life.” Instead I have always felt that there must be a simpler, more natural way to create team spirit. Maybe the bits and pieces that you need to apply to dance your way through the night can be used to generate a sense of belonging together at the workplace as well: respectful, subtle and almost-not-noticable leadership, the concentration on and communication of common goals, a big portion of humor and the willingness to listen to what is being said between the lines. This should enable anybody to dance his or her way through the working day.

Anyway – I have already tried to get my colleagues to go salsa dancing with me. So far without success. But I will definitely do it more often again, because practice makes perfect and I am sure that I can only benefit from getting better. And what is better than learning from something that you love to do?

 

 

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Minimum viable dates (and what to expect from them)

Everybody loves Spaghetti

This week I had dinner with some colleagues (mixed Gyoza, Sushi and half a piece of Gateau au chocolat at iimori Gyoza-Bar, in case you are wondering). One of those colleagues at the table was Dennis (this is not his real name, obviously). Dennis is very active when it comes to dating and he also loves talking about it – which I enjoy, since I love talking about that topic too. Last year Dennis and me went to the Frankfurt book fair together and I remembered that he had bought a book that was named something like “How to get some in the digital age”. So I asked him very bluntly – after having checked out pictures of his most current tinder matches – what he took away from the book in order to improve his dating routine. “Well” Dennis replied, “…stuff like: When you take a woman out for dinner, go to an Italian restaurant, since the atmosphere is always pretty romantic there, the food is not too complicated from an how-do-I-eat-that point of view and also: everybody loves Spaghetti. Make sure your date gets a good and comfortable seat, hold the doors for her, let her order first and pay the check at the end.” Then he paused and I used the short break to mention very casually that all of this – except maybe for the not very contemporary fact that the guy is supposed to pay the bill – seems to be pretty basic stuff to me. “Yes” he said, “it might seem basic to you but nowadays this cannot be taken for granted.”

The conversation continued for a while but I somehow got mentally stuck at the question: How the hell is dating supposed to work in the year 2018? What can I – as a woman – expect from an evening with a man I have met somewhere in the real or the digital world? And most importantly: What is the minimum viable date (MVD) I should look out for and what behavior is simply out of scope? (By the way, I found this very adapt cartoon when I was googling “minimum viable date.”)

Romance is required

I guess for me personally all those practical things like holding the doors open, paying the check and letting me go first when the waiter asks for the order are really not what constitutes a pleasant date. Although those things are “nice to have” – what would they help if the guy sitting opposite of me was really boring or showed no interest in me? My minimum viable date would also not necessarily have to take place at a restaurant (although I love to eat, as you might have noticed). It could take place in a park, at an airport, at the gym, in a boulder hall, on a plane, during a dancing class, on a playground or at a funfair. I strongly believe that if two people have a connection they find ways to be romantic with each other everywhere. Plus: Spending time in rather unusual situations right from the start might be good in order to find out how open your date is for trying out new things (which is a very important character trait for my personal taste).

Two of those rather practical minimum requirements for a date, in my eyes, would be punctuality and focus. While “punctuality” is pretty straightforward, “focus” for me essentially translates to “Keep your hands off your phone”. Yes, even in the digital age I strongly hold the opinion that real people who are present at this specific moment in time when a date takes place should be more interesting and more attention-grabbing than all the other people digitally sending likes and beeps and tweets to your phone. The worst case and an absolute out-of-scope-action for me would be if a guy “managed” his upcoming dates while sitting next to me on a park bench. In a world where attention has become a currency there is nothing more flattering than complete and utter focus on the person you are spending your time with. And that includes mental focus as well – I expect a guy to listen to me, remember the stuff I told him and apply that knowledge at our next meeting.

Let’s get physical

Could all this be too much to ask? Is all this way too complicated considering that most people are just looking for a fling, a digital quickie that has been transformed to real flesh and blood for one evening and that can be consumed as easily as it has been set up? Well, in my opinion: no. People seem to forget that a date is a physical meeting between two people and that it differs profoundly from what they do when they continuously swipe left or right (whatever the correct side for “I think you are hot” is) on Tinder while binge-watching Netflix with half their attention. It seems to me that everybody has to define his or her own rules for minimum viable dates – even if they contain requirements that have been pretty standard in the pre-digital days. Because how else are we able to determine whether to give a five or a one start rating for a guy or a girl, considering the sheer amount of dates the average online dating user is going on?

While indulging in our delicious desserts Dennis told me that he is using Tinder less and less these days. “Getting to know someone in real life is totally different and gives you way more information about a person” he answered after I asked him why. “You do not waste days or weeks texting someone who might turn out to be a totally different person in real life. Instead you get a pretty good first impression of somebody’s personality and whether you might like that person or not. So it actually is not only a nicer way to meet people, it is also more efficient.” I smiled as I picked up the last piece of my chocolate cake. Romance and efficiency? Those two things usually do not go together. But hell, as long as the real world overrules the digital world I am happy. So let’s get physical!

2017: A retrospective

Every year around christmas there comes a day when I sit at home on my sofa, wrapped up in a blanket with a Marshmallow-hot-chocolate in my hand, and reflect on the past year. What my mind does in those moments is essentially something we do at work every second week: a retrospective. At work we sit together with the team and think about what went good or bad in the past two weeks and what we can try out in order to keep improving. The methodology behind this is called “keep – drop – try” and seems to me very suitable for private use as well.  So how about 2017? What is there to keep, drop or try out next year?

∞ Keep

Karaoke

I have always sensed that karaoke could be loads of fun and now – since I have awesome colleagues who are as keen on chanting awkward pop-songs with questionable lyrics into sticky microphones as I am – I can finally do it on a regular basis. I don’t know what it does to my brain, but it has a therapeuthic effect on me:  I always feel happy afterwards.  Besides Zumba and riding rollercoasters, karaoke is my personal guarantee for an endorphin rush and therefore definitely a keeper for 2018.

If you are planning to sing your heart out you can do in the Melody Karaoke Bar in Frankfurt or at the Hallertor in Nuremberg (beware of the stickiness!).

Taking impulsive decisions

I remember the moment distinctly: There were only a few tickets left and they were  insanely expensive. Upon refreshing the browser they were suddenly sold out – my heart stopped. I refreshed once more and – shock – the tickets were available again and so I hit “Buy” without thinking. After five months of sheer excitement I finally went to the Rolling Stones concert and it was worth every single penny. This concert is something I will still talk about when I am as old as Mick Jagger is now. And the whole incident taught me that there are some experiences you cannot put a price upon.

Reconnecting with old friends

Since my not-so-new-anymore job requires me to travel to Nuremberg regularly I got the chance to reconnect with an old friend from elementary school. We were very close as kids and fortunately have managed to reestablish this closeness as adults. I remember a particularly nice evening with her at the open-air cinema. It was 10pm, thirty degrees and we were watching a very bad chick flic with Scarlet Johnson seated in beach loungers that got very uncomfortable after a while and one specific joke got us laughing so hard, that tears were streaming down our faces. I definitely want to have a night like this again in 2018.

↓ Drop

Over-economizing

I tend to spend my money very carefully. Which is good on the one hand, but it sometimes gets in my way as far as memorable or even life-changing experiences are concerned (see “Taking impulsive decisions”). Why not book that flight to Singapore? Who knows what might happen in the future and whether I am still able to do all that I want to do when I am older. So maybe I should cut myself some slack and drop the over-economizing on everything. Because surely a mind full of happy memories is worth more than a full bank account. (And yes, this is coming from somebody who works at a bank.)

Finish reading books I don’t like

I really do love books and whenever I occasionally grab one that does not speak to me at all (try reading “The best of Adam Sharp” by Graeme Simsion – I expected a romantic love story and got a weird weepy main character that ends up having a threesome with his lover’s husband) or that is simply too sophisticated for me (did anyone actually understand “Unterwerfung”, the scandalous oevre by Michel Houellebecq?) I feel a strange inner need to finish the book no matter what. This has to stop! At a birthday party last week a former German literature student pointed out to me that life simply is too short for bad books. And she was right. What applies to bad relationsships, unenjoyable food or stupid movies is valid for books as well. Next year I will drop this habit and only focus on books that engage my brain in a positive way.

♥ Try

Climbing and advanced hiking

To try out climbing has actually been on my to-do-list for 2017 but I messed it up somehow. So 2018 is definitely gonna be the year when I grab some gear and climb up a so called “Klettersteig”. Since I have always wondered whether I am afraid of heights this should be a good occasion to find out. Also, after discovering my love for hiking in 2016, I am now planning to try out some of the more advanced trails. The book Wanderlust, which I bought at the Frankfurt book fair in October, provides awesome food for thought as far as hiking is concerned. My number one destination for 2017 is the Malerweg in Saxon Switzerland.

More cooking and baking

It’s not that I don’t cook or bake, but I definitely do have a certain respect for rather complicated recipes. I am afraid of messing it all up – but then again, why would that be such a desaster? Most things in life are trial and error and only practice makes us better. So I am gonna try it all: the badass chocolate cake and the pumpkin risotto. The Spanish paella and the Portuguese pasteis de nata. I already started last week by preparing an awesome pumpkin and chestnut tarte that involved kneading dough, caramelizing chestnuts and cutting pumpkin – the latter being a challenge by itself for somebody with no measurable arm strenght. How it turned out? Delicious and worth every minute it took to prepare.

2018: I am ready for you 🙂

The opposite of marriage

A friend of mine recently got married. It must have been a beautiful wedding – on a vineyard, with excellent catering and live music, a postcard sunset and the obligatory Hawaii-honeymoon afterwards. “Every girl’s dream”, as the saying goes, although I would not count myself as one of those girls dreaming about a wedding like this (or dreaming about any wedding at all, for a fact). And then – bang – another friend told me the most disturbing thing about this newly wed lady at lunch: Whenever she goes out at night or takes a business-trip she takes off her wedding ring. Just like that – she removes the proof of her recently legalized commitment to another person on purpose to pretend to be single to the outer world. Why, I was wondering, would anybody behave like this?

At first I have to say: it’s not that I do not understand her at least a little. 

Being in a relationship and being single both come with advantages and disadvantages and I myself sometimes feel the need to try to get a piece of both cakes. 

Flirting is fun. But waking up to your loved one is also fun – more than fun, actually, it is one of the most beautiful feelings anybody can experience. The sad thing is, though, that it wears out over time; the excitement and the sheer happiness of being with your loved one fades away, becoming a given somehow. I applaud every couple who can preserve the excitement of the first months of the relationship over years (please let me know how you do it!) without sometimes playing the what-if-I-was-with-someone-else mindgame. And then there is being single. No strings, no compromises, no why-is-the-oven-still-dirty argument when you get home after a long day at work. Just you and maybe one or two dates per week, charming text messages via whatsapp and sweet daydreams during boring meetings. But I always assumed that people who decide to get married were okay with not having this kind of life anymore. Shouldn’t it be a prerequisite for marriage to be absolutely sure to not need or want all this – the nervous rummaging in your wardrobe not being able to decide what to wear to a date, the blushing whenever he touches you accidentally on purpose, the butterflies in your stomach while you’re wondering “Does he sometimes think about me, too?”.

Taking off your wedding ring is betraying your spouse and all the people flirting with you. 

When you cannot commit to your husband or wife in every single situation which life brings your way you should not have gotten married in the first place, in my opinion. 

It might seem harsh, but being married marks a turning point in life where you cannot have both pieces of cake anymore – at least not in the classical sense of marriage. If I was my friend’s husband and somebody told me about my wife taking off her wedding ring, the very symbol of us belonging together, I would question this relationship profoundly. Because what does taking off the ring mean? It means: I need the amorous attention of other people. It means: my spouse’s affection is not enough for me. It means: I want to keep all my options open. And that is the exact opposite of what marriage means to me. So what is the solution here? I guess it’s: try to eat as much different cakes as you need to taste until you find the one that you like best. The one cake that doesn’t make you sick after three pieces but instead gives you a pleasant sugar-rush every spoonful. And then committ to your decision – everytime and everywhere. Everything else seems to be the wrong recipe.

Highs and lows in Austria | 7

Day 8+9: Perfect imperfection

I fell in love with country life. The mountains. The friendly people. The awesome food. The deliberate slowing down of life in general. I even almost bought a super expensive Dirndl which I would have probably worn only once at the Oktoberfest and then never again. What happened to me?

Since the sun started to shine constantly I was on a permanent high, probably induced by the sudden availability of endorphines that lacked before, when there was only rain. But on day seven I also took a very nice trip to Europe’s highest waterfalls – the Krimmler Waterfalls, which upped my mood even more. Those waterfalls are 380 meters high and you can walk up their full height. The walk up there is no picnic, but you will be rewarded with spectacular views and refreshing splash water.

After reaching the top you should definitely continue hiking in the Hohe Tauern National Park until you reach Veitalm (have a Raspberry water there, it’s delicious and not too sweet). You will be walking in a beautiful scenery of rivers, mountains and meadows – honestly the most beautiful scenery I have seen so far.

IMG_9165

On the last day of my holiday the hotel offered a so called “challenging hike”, where we were supposed to overcome a difference in altitude of a 1000 meters. I was like “Let’s do this!” – so I got up at seven am, had a hearty breakfast, put on a ton of sun screen, packed water, supplies and my very fashionable headband that prevents my forehead from getting burned and waited at 8.55 am at the hotel’s entrance, ready and motivated. We were a group of approximately 12 people, all older than me and some of them not very sporty. The temperature had already risen to 25 degrees. Our guide predicted three to four hours for the ascent to Klingspitz, a timeframe that would have been totally fine for average weather conditions. But already after walking up an hour in the burning heat that got hotter by the minute a lot of the people in our group started to pant and feel dizzy. So our guide decided to change the route due to the heat – which was the right thing to do, obviously, but nevertheless I felt disappointed. I had really looked forward to this physical challenge on my last day. Fortunately, two crazy guys – Volker and Peter – wanted to climb the mountain anyway, despite the blazing heat. And so I joined them and we did it: we forced our bodies to take us up the mountain and reached the summit at half past twelve. And it felt awesome.

It was the perfect ending to a vacation that started not so perfect, but all in all turned out great. Even the rainy days – they provided time to read and write and contemplate some things that normally drown in the daily routine. Without the rain I probably would not have started writing these blog posts – and the world would have never known of beautiful Dienten, Klaus and Anneliese or where to get the best Kaspressknödelsuppe. So thank you, bad weather, your rough patches have made my vacation even brighter.

Lesson learnt: Things don’t need to be perfect to be good, sometimes it’s imperfection that leads to the best result.

Highs and lows in Austria | 6

Day 7: A gorge and an identity crisis

The day started with rain and thunder – so I took a dip in the pool in the morning and swam lots of misshapen circles like a fish in a too tiny goldfish bowl. But then, at noon, the sky cleared up and it got sunny and hot. So we jumped in the car and drove to the Siegmund Thun Klamm in Kaprun for a short gorge hike. I had never been in a gorge before so I naturally was very excited and curious – unfortunately, since it was Sunday, the place was very crowded. I chose this gorge because the nearest one to Dienten (Liechtensteinklamm) was closed due to a rockslide and another one at close distance (Kitzlochklamm) offered a torch-lit hike on Tuesdays which I definitely wanted to join. Also, the Siegmund Thun Klamm is pretty small, only 320 meters – ideal for rookies like me. So how was it? Very impressive – I had never walked through a narrow canyon with this many waterfalls before. Also, the lighting in a gorge like this is heaven for ambitious fotographers; you can take various different shots from all possible angles – depending on the incidence of light your picture will look differently every time.

After exiting the gorge we kept on walking and circled the Klammsee which had the most beautiful clear blue water I have ever seen (check out the picture above). All in all it was a nice, not too intense afternoon walk.

We returned right on time for cake and decided – while indulging in multiple delicious pieces of apple strudel – to make the most of the perfect weather and go for another short hike in Dienten. The sun cast long shadows on the ground below us and the meadows shimmered faintly with the residual moisture of this morning’s rain. We had to pass several herds of cows which made me feel like a total country girl – just the opposite of what I feel like at home. “I could get used to that” I thought as we climbed up the hills, overlooking the tiny mountain village with the mighty Hochkönig in the background.

Lesson learnt today: “Zwei Herzen schlagen ach in meiner Brust” – I am a country girl trapped in a towns woman’s body, obviously.