ATL Delivery Leadership Uncategorized

“What’s Project Management Got to Do with It?” — Akilah Billinger on How Hip-Hop Dancing Prepared Her for Delivery Leadership

Akilah Billinger

The year is 2000. Tina Turner is taking the stage at the Super Bowl pre-game show, and on the playing field, about 80 dancers are coordinating to spell out the word TINA.

Near the middle of the T is Akilah Billinger, who now consults for Daugherty in the delivery leadership line of service.

Akilah was 23 at the time, one of the older dancers — part of a well-oiled machine, listening for musical bars or lyrics to indicate their next move.

As the dancers formed the word ROCKS!, Akilah watched the yard line markers as a cue to help form the O.

Nineteen years later, Akilah can look back and say, “It was an AMAZING experience, one I will never forget.”

She still has the commemorative sweatshirt and pin that came with the opportunity, and “the sweatshirt still kind of fits,” she added.

Recently, Akilah joined Daugherty. She hasn’t danced professionally for 15 years, but many of the skills she needs as a project manager are the same as from dancing — skills like organization, communication, training and team-building.

But first, a little background around Akilah’s history with dance.

Akilah started ballet at 6 — the “foundation of all dances,” she called it. But she didn’t have the build for it, so she moved to other forms, like modern, jazz and tap.

During her teenage years, she discovered hip-hop dancing. Until then, all the disciplines had required heavy concentration on technique. Hip-hop dancing was more freestyle.

Then Akilah linked up with a break dancer whose “body just flowed like water.” She was inspired by the movements and began to incorporate them into her style.

Her dancing took off; she performed at concerts and did video shoots with local artists. She also danced at the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

The biggest event was meeting and dancing with Tina Turner.

Now, as a project manager, Akilah can look back and say the greatest overlap between project management and dancing is the necessity to learn processes quickly. At work, Akilah first has to understand the steps in a process before she can evaluate efficiencies to streamline it. She also has to be adaptable, flexible and open to change to create products or services stakeholders want. It takes an analytical mind.

Dancing is also analytical, she said. Not everyone can be a dancer. A true dancer absorbs choreography, can perform the steps almost mistake-free, then adds their own style.

Knowing an audience also plays a major role.

With dance, Akilah needs to recognize who she’s performing to. Perhaps the audience prefers ballet, and she’s doing a modern or jazz piece. If she recognizes that, she can pull in elements of ballet. When working with the leadership of an organization, she needs soft skills to adopt to their speaking styles.

After all, all she’s ever wanted to do was make the audience smile.

When she’s on stage, she puts her energy out to the audience, the audience begins to bob their heads, and she feeds off that.

The more she gives, the more she receives.

“It’s powerful being on stage and having a room appreciate what you’ve trained so hard to do,” Akilah said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve experienced.”

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