For a number of years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with Lee Fisher. We spoke to him about his journey from professional ballet dancer to learning and development consultant.
Tell us about your work.
I’m a Lane4 associate and coach. That means I get to work with lots of organisations and teams, supporting leadership and team development, getting involved in group and one to one work. And I recently came across CentreStage, which has been nice, using theatre, which is my background, as part of the process. I’m fairly new to the use of theatre in learning and development as a concept, but it’s something I’m passionate about. To see it used in the corporate world is really interesting and has affirmed to me the power of theatre in the learning environment.
Where does that passion come from?
It’s in every fibre of me. I started dancing at age five or six, went through intensive training and ended up at the Royal Ballet School, then joined Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet. I performed for nearly 20 years. I’ve also worked a little as a choreographer and director.
What do you miss most about your life in the Ballet?
I feel very privileged. I’ve had a very fortunate career. I’ve toured the world, danced on major opera house stages and danced with wonderful artists. I miss the camaraderie and team spirit you experience when bringing a show to the stage. I also miss being so oriented to detail and physical fitness, and being a part of something. And I do like a good show at the end of the day!
How did you go from Ballet to where you are now?
In 2005 I decided to retire from dance. I’d been working increasingly with groups in the world of community dance, and I really enjoyed that. And I had the opportunity to do a Masters in Applied Dance. I’d always been interested in what makes some dancers more successful than others, so the focus of my studies was psychological performance. There wasn’t much written about dance psychology at the time. It was all sports psychology. So I wrote my MA dissertation on applying psychological enhancement techniques to ballet dancers.
I also went on a year-long leadership programme, a part of which was in Windsor. It was there that I met a client of Lane4, who loved my story and suggested I meet Liz Campbell. I met Liz, and she suggested I go and meet the Lane4 team at a Magic Monday forum, which I did. I wasn’t expecting to do a presentation as well though! I ended up doing a team-building workshop for Lane4, and off the back of that Liz suggested I go to a matching event, which I went to not realising it was a job interview! I subsequently joined Lane4 as a fast track consultant. Lane4 were interested in performance from a dance perspective. So a lot of what I do around motivation and performance comes from the dance world, with coaching being a big part of it. My work for Lane4 is probably around 75% of what I do, the remainder being community dance – I still do work for Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Lane4 are known for applying the principles of high performance in sports to the corporate world. So how does dance differ from sports?
Well there are lots of similarities. Doing the very best you can do, having appropriate goals and maintaining self-belief. In terms of differences, the dance world is far more subjective and open to interpretation. You will go to the same ballet performed by different dancers because of different interpretations. Those elements of interpretation and artistry aren’t as prominent in the sporting domain. What I notice when working with CentreStage is the actors are able to highlight nuance and subtlety in communication, which isn’t immediately measurable but is incredibly important.
What do you think delegates get from working with actors?
It’s so powerful. Seeing situations played out that they can relate to is really enlightening. When people can put themselves into the shoes of the protagonist, it’s great learning. Then to sit one to one and test skills in the moment and get real-time feedback is a great learning opportunity.
For some time I’ve worked with a theatre company that uses actors in prisons, and some of the research they carried out in terms of the impact of forum theatre on personal change was staggering. The research focused on the extent to which prisoners would reoffend or go into employment. Ultimately the use of theatre had a massively positive impact. That’s one of the reasons I value working with actors so much.
You said that your MA dissertation focused on applying psychological enhancement techniques to ballet dancers. What were your findings?
That the more successful dancers were intuitively using techniques such as visualisation, goal setting and positive self-talk. For example, just before you go on stage, what are you saying to yourself? What is your mind-set and how does your mind-set influence your performance? I hadn’t imagined when writing it that I would end up working for a company like Lane4, but now it feels like a really logical progression.
Do the same rules apply in the corporate environment?
I think so. Leaders who are able to focus on the right things at the right time and maintain their motivation, those who are resilient across their beliefs so they can recover from setbacks and maintain performance under pressure are the most successful. I think great athletes, dancers and leaders share those attributes.
I get a massive buzz from doing what I do now. It’s an ideal second career! Giving people that space to grow and set exciting goals, creating the right environment in which people can express themselves, and being able to share that environment with them feels like a real privilege, so I can see myself continuing to do it for many years.
If you didn’t work in this field, what would you do – your perfect ‘third career’?
I fancy being a river keeper on a beautiful stretch of river. I have a passion for nature and the outdoors.