Five Lessons Businesses Can Learn from Ballet

Ballet dancers often make good business people. They have the training and discipline to bring their ideas to life and the artistic streak to dream up a new, creative product. In fact, Pointe's "Dancer Spotlight" column often features dancers who have a non-dance business on the side. 

Julia Erickson, a principal at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, has elucidated her five rules for how non-dancers can think like a ballerina to find balance in their lives— but what about how businesses might think like an arts organization to improve their practices? It's an odd comparison, since arts organizations are often portrayed as poorly structured institutions with financial problems. However, the National Post argues that arts organizations like the National Ballet of Canada offer important lessons when it comes to running a successful business—whether "maximizing performance" means onstage or in the office.

 

1. Selecting talent: Identifying what skills are needed

Yes, sometimes roles are cast largely based on rank. But most often, the best dancer is chosen for each role despite their rank and that means the artistic staff has to have a deep understanding of both what the role calls for and what each dancer in the company is capable of—or has the potential to achieve. In the business world, managers need to understand their employees' skills in order to implement them effectively.

 

2. Developing talent: Honing and training employees

All professional dancers know they have to keep taking class to stay in shape and take care of their bodies, no matter how technically proficient they are. Likewise, a business should maintain a constant cycle of relevant certification and re-certification for their employees, with an eye toward what skills and knowledge will be important down the road.

 

3. Managing talent: Understanding people and talent

Most ballet companies have hierarchies and it takes a rare combination of talent and sweat to reach the top. It's the artistic staff's job to recognize who deserves to be promoted and who needs new opportunities, while it's a manager's job to single out which employees need to be pushed into leadership positions and which ones need time to grow.

 

4. Building a team: Fostering a culture of engaged employees

This goes both ways for dancers and non-dancers alike: People who go into their chosen field with purpose are more likely to succeed, but its up to their superiors to offer them a work environment that is healthy and supportive.

 

5. Improving collaboration: Establishing a communications process

Dancers are champions when it comes to taking (sometimes harsh) criticism and using it as a means to grow and improve. They also know that their input is often an important part of the choreographic process, and that communication goes both ways. Dancers are also great at talking shop with each other—trading ideas for dealing with injuries and nailing technical steps. Managers of non-dancers can encourage what the National Post calls "informal coaching between peers," along with soliciting feedback from their employees as a way to improve their own practices and show mutual respect. 

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