I hate managing people.

I would rather feast on creative solitude in my jungle apartment than manage people. However, God laughs at my plans. So instead, I lead a group of talented creatives as the director of Return of the Black Madonna. The feature documentary film follows me as I learn to swim, dive, and map sunken slave ships to reclaim my relationship to my body, ancestors, and the water.

I devour leadership and productivity articles strategies because I want to be a better boss. But the one place I didn’t expect to find leadership advice was from Lizzo’s competitive reality show, “Watch Out for the Big Grrls.”

Premiering in March on Amazon Prime, “Watch Out for the Big Grrls” follows 13 genetically blessed women as they compete to become Lizzo’s backup dancers at the 2021 Bonnaroo music festival.

Lizzo is known for subverting notions about plus-sized, Black women in music and fashion. But her impressive leadership skills are overlooked. You don’t defy industry expectations on talent and ambition alone.

Spoilers ahead. Here’s what I’ve learned by watching Lizzo’s “Big Girl Energy.”

Redefining Winning

Lizzo follows her own rules. She doesn’t send a contestant home on each episode until there is only one winner. Rather, each contestant has the opportunity to become a backup dancer if she proves she has the talent, drive, discipline, stamina, and humility.

Contestants compete against their limitations as they audition for a spot on the dance team. Contestants learn that emotional and creative breakthroughs experienced by one dancer improve their overall performance. Thus, the perception of winning shifts from besting others to becoming the best version of yourself and helping others do the same. 

Dethrone the Drama Queens

Lizzo’s first rule is “no toxicity allowed.” This spares viewers from a predictable “mean girl” subplot who gets her final comeuppance.

Lizzo sends a problematic contestant home early on. No one feels gleeful when the problematic contestant gets sent packing. She self-sabotages. While her tears feel manipulative, there’s only so much sympathy we can tolerate before her toxicity corrodes the entire team. Dethroning the drama queens on your team and in your life improves everything.

Embrace True Diversity

“Watch Out for the Big Grrls” champions and embraces women the professional dance community ignores. Its contestants are plus-sized women of color, women with emotional disabilities, and transgender women.

A group of contestants imagines themselves as the Barbie dolls they wish they had as children and execute it as a music video concept during an especially poignant episode. In the music video, we watch the contestants transform into the fierce, beautiful women inside them all along.

Listen to the People You Hire

Lizzo’s collaborators and confidantes are her eyes and ears and act as proxies for the star in dance rehearsals and personal development workshops. They watch the dancers and report to Lizzo what they learn.

Choreographer Tanisha Scott warns Lizzo that some contestants aren’t ready for the stage. Lizzo is crushed. She has emotionally invested in the women and wants them to succeed. However, the contestants could hurt Lizzo’s brand and themselves if they aren’t prepared.

Ultimately, Lizzo listens to her staff but trusts herself. She makes decisions in their best, mutual interests.

Be Fabulous and Vulnerable

Lizzo’s enthusiasm for the contestants, their gifts, and her art are infectious. She playfully throws pillows or a champagne glass in the pool when watching the contestants achieve breakthroughs.

While every outfit Lizzo wears is stunning, she isn’t afraid to be vulnerable. Lizzo confesses she’s hurt when the public judges her body and questions her right to thrive as a plus-sized, Black woman. However, her vulnerability allows contestants to shed their fears.

I have watched the entire show twice. Lizzo challenges and inspires me to become a better leader. I also shifted my definition of leadership from management to providing opportunities for others to nourish and bloom. She demonstrates that women can be “100 percent that b*tch” while leading with grace, humor, and style.

Kerra Bolton is a writer and filmmaker based in the Mexican Caribbean. In a former life, she was a political columnist; Director of Communications, Outreach, and Oppositional Research for the North Carolina Democratic Party; and founder of a boutique strategic communications firm.


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