5 Leadership lessons from Argentine tango

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Can managers learn anything from the old fashioned tango? Isn’t this musty stuff relegated to dustbins of the previous generation and of little interest to the modern crop of today’s MBAs?
In the spirit of the carnival season this post is on a lighter note. In preparation for my upcoming vacation trip to Buenos Aires I have been exposing myself to the delights of the Argentine tango by way of dance classes. Now, I have never been really into dancing and so I am pleasantly surprised at the charms, depth and the unexpected management lessons (!) one can derive from this enjoyable and occasionally passionate pastime.
NOTE to the un-initiated: Argentine tango is a very different dance from your typical ballroom, Latin or discostyle dancing. It does not have a fixed rhythm or a step flow but instead relies on a “close embrace” connection between partners to execute an individual, free-flowing step structure nevertheless tuned to the played music.
Leaders lead, the followers follow (and don’t you try to change that!) – One of the first things you learn from the Argentine tango is that the dancing couple  has  prescribed roles (leader and follower) which are to be acknowledged, accepted and executed each in their own way. There can only be one leader (one pair of hands on the steering wheel) with his vision and objectives for the dance (organization). The follower’s job is to be fine-tuned to that vision as well as to the directions coming from the leader. There is no bigger disaster than the case of followers attempting to out-guess the leader or impose their own vision in the dance (company). I had such a case of “founderitis” in one of the ventures I was running when the founder had a really hard time to let go and attempted to run the shop from the back seat. This can not be successful and only leads to problems. Trust and mutual respect are the foundation of a well executed dance πŸ™‚
It’s about connecting – The most critical part in executing Argentine tango is to establish a close and firm connection (embrace) between partners right from the start. The partners need to feel connected in an intimate way secure, trusting and working together. The followers may feel well taken care of, but led in a firm way.
You don’t tell, you show the direction – As soon as the movement starts, the tango dance becomes a series of small collaborative step projects. The leader’s job is to navigate the dance floor (market) looking for free space (opportunities) and avoid collisions (competition), while tuning the performance to the music played (economic environment) with an ultimate objective of ensuring a beautiful and satisfying experience (commercial success). To execute well, the leaders and the followers need to be collaborating harmoniously through a series of gentle interactions: the leader extends an invitation and the follower issues an acceptance moving in the way and the direction selected.
Listen to the music – Even the best learnt dancing technique (technology) is useless if it does not fit well with the music played (market requirements). The leader’s job is to ensure that the partners dance to the music played and do not in futile attempt to force the music (the world) to fit what they know and do.
Enjoy yourself! – Why do we dance (live and work)? Beauty, love, romance, graceful moves, scent of roses, fresh-cut grass, slender limbs, taste of honey, that’s the stuff that dance and life is made of. We all spend most of our waking hours at work. Let’s make sure we make it a bit more like the tango πŸ™‚
PS
I have stumbled upon this brief video which helps to illustrate some of my points:
If you would like to see a brief sample of master tango, here is a clip of Gabriel Misse and his partner Alejandra Martinan. It starts off slow, but note the amazing footwork as they progress. Most amazing? It’s ALL improvised on the spot (yes, market conditions can change quickly πŸ™‚
Finally, if, after all of the above πŸ™‚ you are in need of tango instruction, here is a website of my favourite master teachers:
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The Jenkins Report – risks for refundable SRED

Recently, the so-called Jenkins Report, “Innovation Canada: A Call to Action,” was released by the Independent Panel on Federal Support to Research and Development (R&D). Its purpose was to provide “advice in respect of the effectiveness of federal programs to support business and commercially oriented R&D, the appropriateness of the current mix and design of these programs, as well as possible gaps in the current suite of programs and what might be done to fill them.”
 
The full report is available on line and in various summaries as well as commentaries such as this one:
 
 
Of particular interest and concern to start-ups, early-stage companies and small business, is this innocently sounding recommendation of:
 
“simplifying the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit and redeploying funds from the credit to direct initiatives that support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)”.
 
Apparently, what’s behind this recommendation is an idea of replacing or reducing the “refundable R&D tax credit” by direct “initiatives” (read: grants, investments, etc). This is a huge RED FLAG and RISK for early-stage companies which often rely on cash from SRED refunds as a substitute for the shortages of venture investment funding in the current dismal climate. We can only applaud the idea of simplifying the existing system, but reducing or replacing the “refundability” aspect of it would be a killer and the serious blow to many high-tech startups which rely on this cash to fund their R&D work.
 
Direct funding initiatives, such as the popular IRAP program, are much more finicky, uncertain, bureaucratic, and frequently run out of money. In truth, we need both programs: refundable SRED and direct initiatives.
 
In any case, we can not afford to allow for the cancellation of  the refundable SRED credit – This would really hurt innovation and the creation of knowledge-based companies.
 
We need to lobby our politicians hard to improve the existing system but with an utmost care of not hurting the cashflow of newly-born fledgling enterprises.
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