Developing Leaders: Get on the balcony

One of the most difficult transitions executives make and sometimes never make is understanding the difference between ‘doing the work to getting the work done’. Two very different activities. A simple but profound metaphor to this challenge is to be found in the work of Adaptive Leadership by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky. The concept of ‘Get On The Balcony’ – the need to gain perspective in the midst of action. Heifetz and Linsky describe as follows ‘the skill 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 – Whats really going on here?’

In a development discussion last week I had with a executive looking to develop his ability to get more balcony perspective was my suggestion to volunteer for a public appointment on a board, charity or voluntary body. Board work at its best is skillful balcony work. Observing, listening and questioning and then offering diagnostic interpretations of ‘what is really going on’ is highly value added contribution to any board. The further advantage to this type of board work is that it takes the executive out of their organisational assumptions of their day to day seduction of doing the work rather than getting the work done.

A more entrepreneurual model is the idea of equity in return for board work. One such well supported start up in this space is experience for equity. Where experienced executives offer advice, insight and balcony work for organisations who agree that the benefit for such contribution is longer term equity rather than short term payment.

The ability to move with agility from the dance floor to the balcony will develop a deeper leadership capability and this skill is one that exponentially benefits you, your organisation and the boards you serve.

Part of the series Developing Leaders: What Really Works by Steve Mostyn, Associate Fellow Said Business School, University of Oxford