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The Balcony vs The Floor Leadership Approach

One of the biggest gaps on any team is the gap between the leaders on the balcony and the players on the floor. This gap creates gaps in communication, engagement, and performance. Understanding this gap and learning how to close it can be one of the most important leadership lessons you can learn.


Harvard professors Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linski developed a leadership model called Adaptive Leadership to address this gap. Adaptive leadership is a leadership approach that focuses on guiding our teammates and teams through challenges and change.


GETTING ON THE BALCONY


They say being a leader is like being at a basketball game. There is nothing like being in the middle of the action on the court where you can see, hear, and feel everything. You can hear the plays being called, the trash-talk, and the support or lack of support from teammates. You can feel the energy of the people around you and the impact of every decision that is made.


But when you are on the court, you can generally only see yourself and the people around you. When you leave the court and go to the balcony, you can now see everything. Getting on the balcony helps you step back physically and emotionally, and observe everything that is going on. This can give you time and space to think and reflect so you can take the next, best action.


Our ability to move from the court to the balcony is critical for our success as leaders. If you aren’t in the action, you can’t tell how your decisions impact the people who are, but if you don’t take time to leave the court, you won’t have the time or space to see the big picture, reflect, and make the best decisions for yourself and others.


The ability to move from the action to reflection - from the action on the court to the reflection opportunity of the balcony and back - is critical, because it allows you to take corrective action. Leaders make mistakes every day. Harvard professor Ronal Heifetz says, “And we find then, in leadership, that actually, the most common sources of failure are diagnostic. If you get the problem wrong, generally, the action is going to be wrong.”


If we don’t take the time to get on the balcony and detach emotionally, we run the risk of compounding those problems. On the other hand, if we live on the balcony and never get on the court, we run the risk of making detached decisions that either don’t affect performance or affect it negatively.


Our ability to lead effectively is directly tied to our ability to move from the action to the balcony and back as often as possible.


CLOSING THE COMMUNICATION GAP


Moving from the floor to the balcony also helps us better communicate with the people in those spaces. The communication disconnect comes when we aren't able to communicate with people on different levels than us.


People on the court don't always know why the leaders on the balcony make the decisions that they make, and the leaders on the balcony don't always get the opportunity to know how their decisions impact the people on the court. This is why effective communication, both from the top down and the bottom up is critical for team success.


Bad communicators either avoid crucial or difficult conversations, or they put everything out there in a way that causes emotional eruptions that affect relationships and performance. Good communicators can approach crucial or difficult conversations, but they avoid the crucial or difficult part. Great communicators are able to have conversations about any and everything in a safe way.


The 4 question protocol that I use when there is a gap in communication from the balcony to the floors includes:


1 - WHAT - Start by explaining what is going on and sharing the facts of the situation.

2 - INTENT - Discuss why behind what is happening, decisions, or changes.

3 - IMPACT - Talk about how this is impacting the team and team members.

4 - NEXT STEPS - Discuss what would be the best steps moving forward.


The beauty of this protocol is that nobody has to go into the conversation or come out of the conversation with concrete changes or actions. This can be the first or next step in the problem-solving process. Once you have gathered all the important information, then you can make a more informed decision about what needs to be done next.


This protocol helps us go from the floor to the balcony, and back to the floor and better communicate with the people at different levels.


REFLECTION QUESTIONS


1 - Do you spend more time on the balcony or the court? Do you spend more time in the weeds and action or looking at the bigger picture?


2 - How do you get on the balcony? Do you have a method for stepping back and seeing the big picture?


3 - How often are you in the action? Do you have a method for getting on the court? How do you maintain the separation between player and coach?


4 - How do you best communicate with people on different levels than you, and who can you do a better job of communicating with?


For a printable PDF of this post, click here: From the Balcony to the Floor

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