Why Cirque’s CEO Believes Leadership Is A Two-Way Tightrope

Cirque du Soleil is likely an organization you’ve heard about. Maybe you have attended one of their dazzling shows in Las Vegas. However, you may not be as familiar with the company’s CEO, Daniel Lamarre. What an exemplar of leadership he provides.

Prior to becoming CEO at Cirque du Soleil in 2001, Mr. Lamarre held senior roles in Canadian firms such as Cogeco, NPR, and TVA, Quebec’s most prominent private television broadcaster. Over his 40+ years of leading teams and organizations, Lamarre has learned a thing or two about leadership.

It’s not solely about backflips and handstands.

During an interview with Lamarre, he made mention of a technique he refers to as “knowing when to step up and step back.” He believes leaders should always be on the hunt for new and creative ideas. That’s the “step up” trait. But Lamarre also encourages leaders to develop the skills that allow team members’ ideas to come to you effortlessly. Hence, “step back.”

Wherever the ideas come from, they cannot result in groupthink either.

Lamarre argues that if people do not feel empowered to come forward and debate their ideas with senior leadership, the culture ultimately suffers. “They need to feel that their ideas are welcomed,” he said, “and that they can disagree with and debate with us.”

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if the idea comes from me or from any of the employees at the firm,” remarked Lamarre. “What’s important—and that’s a key principle of me—is that the best idea should prevail.”

Lamarre points out what many leaders miss. You can’t refer to your organization as open and collaborative if you’re not creating ways for ideas to easily bubble up to senior leadership. Furthermore, if employees are asked to surface ideas yet, they’re never accepted or even implemented, that has dire consequences for the overall culture health of the organization.

Lamarre’s new book, Balancing Acts: Unleashing the Power of Creativity in Your Work and Life, is his attempt to share what he has learned about creativity and leadership from the best creators in the world – the Cirque du Soleil team.

What Lamarre also demonstrates in the book, however, is his wonderful leadership style, including the key traits of inclusivity, collaboration, and mutual trust. For example, Lamarre indicated Cirque does not talk about diversity; it is diversity. With employees from 49 different nationalities, diversity is not something the firm focuses on; instead, it’s at the core of how Cirque operates.

When discussing creativity, Lamarre believes that creativity directly links one’s ability to be vulnerable. He makes an astute point between leadership and employees on this point. “I want my artists to feel that I am as vulnerable and as committed to push the level of performance as they (the artists) are on stage,” he said.

Lamarre believes that if a leader is not vulnerable, employees will not look up to or respect the leader. But when a leader acts with vulnerability, employees—the artists in the case of Cirque du Soleil—will feel more tightly aligned and connected with senior leadership.

It’s such an important leadership trait to highlight because far too many leaders believe that their style should be authoritarian or Teflon-like. On the contrary, Lamarre suggests vulnerability begets vulnerability, and good things ensue when this occurs. “People are looking for authenticity,” said Lamarre. It’s hard not to agree with him.

It’s no wonder he has been at the helm of Cirque du Soleil for more than twenty years, weathering calamities such as 9/11, the Great Recession, and of course, the pandemic. The latter significantly impacted attendance at the company’s shows globally.

Imagine losing $1 billion in revenue overnight. That happened in Q1 of 2020 once the pandemic’s first wave hit. So it’s no surprise to see how Lamarre used his style—and the operating culture of Cirque du Soleil—to walk the stilts of impactful leadership to step over failure, eventually helping the company come back stronger than ever.

One might argue Lamarre is that rare breed of leader, successfully balancing the tightrope of profitability through a collaborative, creative, and engaging leadership style.

{ SOURCE: Forbes }