Although I wouldn’t say that I’m the best of dancers, when I connect with a great beat, I almost always don’t want to stop moving to it. I love the buzz, the pumps, the adrenaline and also the view on the dance floor, even if it’s short-sighted. If you have, however, ever tried to take a break from the dance floor, say at a wedding or an event, and step off to a balcony, you will get to see a lot of details that you couldn’t capture before. The sight indeed brings a new perspective.
I see this love for the dance floor not only in the ballroom but also in the business space. Especially in our now embraced VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, there just seems to be a whole lot of operational demands on leaders, and these demands keep them stuck in the limited view and endless working cycles of the dance floor.
This, however, comes with its cost, as the VUCA world expects more adaptability from leaders. Those who are not able to understand how to step away from the dance floor and move to the balcony will get stuck in the leader’s dance trap.
Now more than ever, business leaders need to understand the difference between “doing the work” and “getting the work done.” Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky shared the concept of “Get on the Balcony” in their work, “Adaptive Leadership.” The concept highlights how leaders can gain perspective while in the middle of the action.
In his book “Leadership Without Easy Answers,” Heifetz also says leaders who adopt this style will be better equipped to see the patterns as well as the flow of their employees’ performance than when they’re right in front of them. This leadership dexterity boils down to perspective and understanding the right balance between the long-term and short-term objectives. When leaders get trapped in simple details that could be delegated and majorly operational, they aren’t exploring the depth of their leadership effectiveness.
While the dance floor may involve meeting with clients, answering queries, invoicing clients, generating leads, dealing with conflicts, organizing and attending meetings and so on, the balcony is about strategically viewing the big picture and analyzing the interface of other key functions such as production, research and development, purchasing, marketing, human resource management, accounting and finance, strategy, customer service, design, governance, quality management and culture. Indeed, the dance floor gives great pumps of adrenalin, and who doesn’t like the feel; however, excess supply could also be detrimental. Great leaders understand the right balance. They know when to be on the dance floor and when to be on the balcony. This is because leadership is both active and reflective.
Peter Drucker is known to have said, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.” Yesterday’s logic is about being oblivious to the pace of change. Therefore, leaders need to accelerate their adaptability quotient and imbibe skills and competencies that can help them navigate both worlds effectively. On the balcony, you expand your perspective, analyze and make observations. While, on the dance floor, you deploy interventions when needed.
It’s time to get on the balcony. How? Make time for regular reviews of projects, objectives, goals and schedules. Constantly review the big picture. Analyze what is going on across functions and departments. Ensure the alignment of internal processes with the organizational vision.
And while on the balcony, ask:
• Where and how are our greatest connections happening?
• What do we need to do to get to the next phase? Why? How? When?
• Are there broken links between constituents?
• How can we improve our processes? What can we do to enhance the day-to-day details?
• What competencies do we need to bring in?
• What does my team need that they’re unable to see and ask for?
It’s important to always think forward. All it takes is a decision to begin, really. (This is the beauty of the balcony.)
It’s important to note that, as a leader, you consciously take others along with you to the balcony. Your team also needs that perspective to align with the vision and also to be on the same page with you. Therefore, make sure to have constant review sessions.
Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been caught in the leader’s dance trap. Adaptability is the key. There has never been a better time than now to move away from ideologies that aren’t serving you anymore. Adopting the above tips will help develop your ability to move from the dance floor to the balcony, and exponentially support you and your organization to thrive in the midst of change.