Taking a Detached (Balcony) Perspective

… a core concept in Leadership Skills and Atlas 109

BalconyViewConcept description

This concept (effective practice) deals with the ability to maintain perspective in the midst of action.

Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky (reference below) use the image of “getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony,” to capture the mental activity of stepping back from the action and asking, “What’s really going on here?”

They write:

“Any military officer knows the importance of maintaining the capacity for reflection, especially in the “fog of war.” Great athletes must simultaneously play the game and observe it as a whole. … Leadership is an improvisational art. You may be guided by an overarching vision, clear values, and a strategic plan, but what you actually do from moment to moment cannot be scripted. You must respond as events unfold. To use our metaphor, you have to move back and forth from the balcony to the dance floor, over and over again throughout the days, weeks, months, and years. While today’s plan may make sense now, tomorrow you’ll discover the unanticipated effects of today’s actions and have to adjust accordingly. Sustaining good leadership, then, requires first and foremost the capacity to see what is happening to you and your initiative as it is happening and to understand how today’s turns in the road will affect tomorrow’s plans.”

Techniques for taking a balcony perspective

Heifetz and Linsky set out the challenges of accurately interpreting what you see and hear given that people naturally have hidden agendas as they defend their habits and ways of thinking. But they suggest that the biggest challenge is seeing yourself objectively as you look down from the balcony.

Nevertheless, they say it is possible to learn to be both an observer and a participant at the same time, through techniques such as:

  • When you are sitting in a meeting, practice by watching what is happening while it is happening – even as you are part of what is happening.
  • Observe the relationships and see how people’s attention to one another can vary: supporting, thwarting, or listening.
  • Watch people’s body language.
  • When you make a point, resist the instinct to stay perched on the edge of your seat, ready to defend what you said. A technique as simple as pushing your chair a few inches away from the table after you speak may provide the literal as well as metaphorical distance you need to become an observer.

Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky (2002), A Survival Guide for Leaders, Harvard Business Review, June 2002, at Wikipedia, at https://hbr.org/2002/06/a-survival-guide-for-leaders/ar/1, accessed 6 March 2016.

Atlas topic and subject

Diagnosing (core topic) in Leadership Skills.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 6 March 2016.

Image: Yelp, The Grand, at http://www.yelp.com/biz_photos/the-grand-san-francisco?select=j8vpD6QEngU6Ak389kqIFQ, accessed 6 March 2016.