Expanding perspective from the ‘dancefloor to the balcony’

Image credit to Edward Howell

Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow in their book ‘The Practice of Adaptive Leadership’ use the metaphor of the ‘balcony and the dance floor’ to describe the different perspectives leaders should be able to hold and use interchangeably. Some refer to the view from the balcony as the helicopter view. Another useful metaphor is zooming in on the dance floor and zooming out from the balcony.

On the dance floor the leader’s perspective is informed by being at the heart of the action, hands on, and immersed. On the balcony the leader steps out of the action and can observe the dancefloor without being involved in it.

I agree with Heifetz, Marty Linsky, and Grashow who argue that the perspective leaders gain from the balcony is imperative to understanding the dynamics of the ecosystem. When one is too close to something, it’s easy to become part of it and loose perspective or grow blind spots. On the dancefloor leaders may find themselves in a repetitive cycle doing what they have always done. The distance one has being on the balcony allows leaders to separate and more objectively observe, reflect and extract insights to take fresh action when returning to the dancefloor.

So alternating between the balcony and dancefloor enables leaders to transform insight into fresh action. And vice versa, extract insights from being in the action on the dancefloor that informs new understanding that again fuels fresh action. As learning unfolds, leaders are better positioned to continuously respond and adapt.

How often do leaders create the space to go onto the balcony to get a bigger perspective of their ecosystem? Sometimes unknowingly or for valid reason leaders get too involved in the day to day activities or stay in crisis management. Leaders can get caught up in back to back meetings and lose sight of the bigger system.

Coaching creates the space for leaders to get off the dancefloor and step onto the balcony, where they can expand their perspective in order to take adaptive action. Observation, reflection, learning is nurtured in a coaching process and develops the capability to continuously course correct and make improvements.

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