Terri Hughes Blog

Dance Floor or Balcony?

Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2014

This blind spot is recognizing how to shift between managing tasks and stepping outside of the details to lead the team. This idea is beautifully described by Heifetz and Linsky in their book, Leadership on the Line.

Imagine a dance floor with a large balcony above it.  When you’re dancing on the floor, you’re focused primarily on your partner and maybe a few of the couples on the side.  Your perspective of the dance is based on your performance and perhaps a few couples nearby.  But until you’re on the balcony and off the dance floor can you look across the floor to gain a new perspective.  You’ll see important patterns like - who is dancing in sync, who is sitting the dance out, and who needs more help than others.

Good leaders are able to recognize when to dive into the details on the dance floor and when to step up on the balcony to observe and distance themselves from the details to effectively lead and guide the team.

View from the Balcony

Alexis was promoted to a new leadership position where she managed a team of forty employees across eight states and two countries.  She wanted to be strategic in her approach to her new team and their large number of project deliverables.

She struggled with balancing the large amount of task work she was good at and focusing on leading the team.

Alexis recognized she needed to schedule specific time each day to get “off the dance floor” and “onto the balcony” for critical high-level views to see the bigger picture patterns and lead her virtual team more strategically. It took Alexis several fifteen-minute meetings with herself to just quiet her mind from all the busyness of her day to concentrate on her strategies, but she stayed the course and created a new, effective process.  She now spends time at the beginning and end of each day with a list of just one or two priorities that she uses as a guide to keep her on track with the big goals.

How to shift between the dance floor and the balcony:

  • Allow yourself some quiet time each day (even just 15 minutes) to step outside the daily activities and conduct a strategic planning meeting with yourself.  Despite overwhelm and chaos, there’s always the opportunity to stop, and reflect before acting.
  • Take a few moments at the end of each day to determine how your time was split between the ‘dance floor’ and the ‘balcony’.  
  • Recognize big picture patterns through conversations with others above you and outside of your area.  Listen to the energy behind the words.  Ask questions that will help you discover important realities.


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