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Move Away From the Dance Floor to the Balcony

Published on
April 6, 2021
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Important Leadership Tips:
Move Away From the Dance Floor to the Balcony

There is such an abundance of material on leadership styles and how to manage more effectively. These techniques are constantly changing which means the best way to run a sustainable business will also inevitably continue to change. So, how can you be best prepared to lead? It will depend on how you successfully manage all these changes which can work to both your advantage as well as to your organization.

Managers and executives need to understand the difference between “doing the work, to getting the work done”. A simple yet discerning leadership theory can be found in the work of Adaptive Leadership by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky. The concept of “Get On The Balcony” is about how to gain perspective while in the midst of action. Heifetz and Linsky describe it as “the skill of getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony – an image that captures the mental activity of stepping back in the midst of action and asking – What's really going on here?”

In his book Leadership Without Easy Answers, Heifetz made the point that when leaders periodically get off the dance floor and get up on the balcony, they will be better equipped to see the patterns as well as the flow of their employees performance than when they are right in front of them.

The metaphor of the dance floor and the balcony aptly speaks to the importance of perspective for managers. Being on the dance floor means you are directly in the middle of things and a part of the action. You can see the details, however, it is impossible to see the full picture. To see the full picture, you must move to the balcony where your view is unobstructed, and you can take everything in.  Moving to the balcony means taking a step back. Making a conscious effort to regularly spend time on the balcony is a vital skill for you to cultivate in order to have the freedom to grow or lead your business.

Walt Whitman described this idea as being "both in and out of the game." Magic Johnson's greatness in leading his basketball team came in part from his ability to play hard while keeping one eye on the game as a whole as if he stood in the stands. Although this concept is simple, it takes practice to put it into action.

Why Getting On The Balcony Matters

Whether you are a manager or an executive in a leadership position, you are in a world of constant and relentless change, the days of making a plan and waiting for it to unfold are far gone.  When change is constant, what seemed like a good plan yesterday may not seem like a good one tomorrow. Adaptive leaders need to be able to change direction quickly based on a rapidly changing environment. 

Leadership is both active and reflective. A manager needs to have eyes on both the details and the big picture. Knowing when to get on the dance floor and when to move to the balcony is an essential skill for seeing projects all the way through. Mastering this skill means you will be able to discern between the amount of time to spend on the dance floor versus on the balcony. On the balcony, you gain perspective and make observations. On the dance floor, you make interventions as needed.

How It’s Done

Move to the balcony by:

  • Regularly reviewing your project goals and schedules.
  • Taking a step back and looking at the big picture. For example, what is happening across all teams and projects?

Once on the balcony, ask yourself:

  • Where and how are the most successful connections happening?
  • Are there any broken links or connections between team members?
  • What can be done to enhance the details on the dance floor?
  • What do the people on the dance floor need from me that they’re unable to see and ask for?

Practicing Getting On The Balcony 

As a manager, it is your job to bring people up to the balcony with you. You can do that by:

  • Debriefing any decisions, actions, and ideas with your team members so that they understand the rationale behind their tasks.
  • Reviewing project goals and schedules in your team meetings.
  • Being transparent with the organization’s mission, perspectives, and goals.  This will make it easier for team members to move forward with you.

We all succumb to the pressure of dancing as fast as we can, however, managing a business with wisdom entails spending a bit of time away from the action, gaining the perspective and insight that a short break out on the balcony can bring. 

There has never been a better time than now to move away from a command and control style of leadership towards one of delegation and trust. Practicing the above outlined steps will develop your agility to move from the dance floor to the balcony, and exponentially support you and your organization to thrive in the midst of change.  We hope you will give it a try and see for yourself the long-term benefits of applying this model.


Stop Dancing and Get Out on the Balcony - AMA

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About Mariam Rowhani

Mariam is a freelance writer offering support for businesses & entrepreneurs locally and globally. She brings a significant amount of experience in the corporate marketing industry and as a freelancer in content management, internet research, blogging, article writing, copy editing, and proofreading.

Her mission is to empower business owners to produce content that clearly and authentically communicates with their target audiences, ultimately making lives less stressful as well as allowing for more free time to live more well-balanced and healthier lives.

View the episode transcript

L'avenir du travail est arrivé. Il est temps de prospérer.