Heifetz: Limits of Balcony Based Leadership

Recently in my educational leadership coursework we stumbled upon some leadership philosophies of the distinguished leadership theorist Ronald Heifetz, specifically his thoughts from Leadership Without Easy Answers. In some of his leadership philosophies Heifetz recommends that leaders in a crisis must view their challenging situation ‘from the balcony.’ Or in other words Heifetz encourages leaders to not be on the dance floor, but instead view their situation from the balcony. On this metaphorical thought balcony Heifetz argues ‘we’ leaders can more easily see the various perspectives of those we lead; or at least those perspectives of individuals who may be affected by our decisions. But what are the limits of the Heifetz Balcony model?

My first gut reaction is an assumption of depth. Or I question the ability of a leader to truly understand the perspective of someone who reports directly to you, just by imaging what that perspective may be like. As a future leader, I don’t think I can imagine all the possible perspectives of those who may be under my organizational responsibility. Perhaps it is more important to undergo empathy training or to frequently be encouraged to perform tasks which are beneath their responsibility, in order to more fully empathize with various perspectives.

Having shared these criticisms above, on at least one point I do agree with Heifetz. In the toxic environments which leaders may often find themselves, it is important to constantly be filtering your experiences through the lens of criticisms which are meant for me as a person, contrasted with leadership criticisms which may not be directed at a specific person. Instead some criticisms may often be directed at a leader’s position or the leader’s organization. These latter criticisms of a leader’s position, should instead be taken seriously, but are more easily digested if digested through a non-personal lens.

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