Aside

The Dance Floor and the Balcony

Ronald Heifetz is the King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. For the past twenty years, he has generated critical works that have influenced leadership theory in every domain. Heifetz often draws on the metaphor of the dance floor and the balcony.

Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom. . . . Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner, and you reserve whatever is left to make sure you don’t collide with dancers close by. . . . When someone asks you later about the dance, you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with dancers.”

But, if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns. . . you might have noticed that when slow music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all. . . . the dancers all clustered at one end of the floor, as far away from the band as possible. . . . You might have reported that participation was sporadic, the band played too loud, and you only danced to fast music.

. . .The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray. . . .

If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.*

So you need to be both among the dancers and up on the balcony. That’s where the magic is, going back and forth between the two, using one to leverage the other.

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* Heifetz, R., and Linsky, M. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

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