While away for some family vacation time, I’ve had a chance to do a lot more walking than I can normally squeeze in at home. And, as a result, I’ve been reunited with some favorite old songs that don’t get cycled through the play lists as frequently as they might.
Yesterday, it was Sting’s “They Dance Alone”. It’s a haunting song set in Chile during the reign of Pinochet whose government kidnapped, tortured, and killed thousands of people over two decades. Chilean women protested in the only way that was allowed, by dancing the Cueca (the national dance of Chile) alone, holding photographs of their missing or dead loved ones.
A dance of protest can operate at a national/political level, as it did in Chile; but it can also operate on an organizational level. And, while I certainly don’t intend to compare business leaders in any way to the likes of a homicidal dictator, employee protests do occur every day in a variety of symbolic and other ways. We’ve all seen it:
- The downsizing initiative that leaves survivors shell-shocked, guilt-ridden, and suddenly much more absent and much less productive than before.
- The realignment in which a beloved supervisor is unceremoniously moved to another department and his/her group withdraws its discretionary effort and cooly goes through the motions with the new boss.
- The new strategy that employees don’t feel connected to and, as a result, take pains to torpedo.
Dances of protest are as much a feature of the business landscape as they are the political landscape. As leaders, we need to first recognize and understand them. Then we need to connect with the ‘dancers’ – compassionately and inclusively – listening, learning, and rekindling their own connection with the organization and its mission. Only then can the energy of protest be transformed into the energy of progress.
I can’t wait to see what’s next on my play list!
What about you? What employee protest dances have you seen (or danced yourself)? How can leaders get in step with protesting employees?