I am basically an impatient person; a person of action. Multi-tasking comes easy and being in the midst of the ‘action’ is stimulating. My mind works fast! I receive information and quickly sort through it to get to a point of resolution. Making decisions is fairly easy for me. However; through the school of hard knocks, I have learned that impatience, action, quickly assimilating information, multi-tasking, and fast decision making is not always a good thing! In fact, it’s rarely a good thing when, as leaders, we are faced with making decisions that impact those we are called to serve and support.
Many people have heard of the concept ‘balcony view’. It refers to the mental (or physical) action of stepping back and gaining perspective. I first heard about it shortly after visiting the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Duomo, in Florence, Italy. We had spent a few days visiting places like the Galleria Dell’ Accademia and were moved by Michelangelo’s David, an impressive 17′ statue of detailed strength and beauty. We leisurely walked through the Uffizi Gallery, awed by the magnificent paintings by artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, and da Vinci. And of course, we delighted in the many cafés with their delicious pastries and memorable coffee. We quickly learned the difference between al tavolo and al banco pricing! Exploring Florence was such an amazing experience.
After putting on many foot-miles, our final adventure was to climb the 463 steps to the top of the Duomo. The staircase quickly narrowed to a spiral climb – suffocating for a claustrophobic!
However; once we broke into the warmth of the afternoon sun, we were rewarded with the most magnificent view…Florence from 114 metres! We could trace the path of our explorations, see each location in relationship to others, and even notice places we didn’t realize existed. I think you get where I’m going with this.
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring Florence, but until we made the climb to the top – to the balcony – it was a series of magnificent, but isolated experiences.
Heifetz/Grashow, and Linsky added to the Balcony View concept by referring to the action of – “moving from the dance floor to the balcony“. We love the dance floor. We love being at the heart of the action, enjoying the energy of everyone dancing to the same beat. It’s difficult to pull ourselves away, to step up to the balcony and be an observer rather than a participant. But as leaders, we must. But what are we doing on the balcony?
Heifetz and his co-authors suggest three activities in which we need to engage from the balcony: observe, interpret, and intervene.
If you were to ask what we saw from the top of the Duomo, each of us would have described something different — all correct, but different. This is an important part of observing. We look at things through the lens of our personal experience and bias, so when on the balcony our view or perspective is broadened a more inclusive view of what’s happening in the everyday workings of our team or organization. The authors encourage leaders to then move into the practice of interpreting what they have observed. Once more we need to acknowledge the fact that we interpret our observations differently than our colleagues. In my previous blog I introduced the importance of checking assumptions…this is a perfect example of how the practice of critical thinking will enhance how we interpret our observations. In our human desire to get to solutions, we may tend rush through this interpreting stage. Taking time to consider, to ponder, to reflect, will enhance our accurate deciphering of what our senses take in. This pause and will greatly impact the interventions or actions we put forth. Remember, action is the result of decision making.
I appreciate how John Dewey approaches decision making. Following a close examination of the situation (as noted above), consideration should be given to possible alternative directions in addressing the matter at hand, weighing the evidence, choosing what is deemed to be the best path, and then taking action. But it doesn’t end there. Leaders need to identify when the decision will be reviewed and potentially altered.
We took 463 vertical, winding, narrow steps to get to the top of the Duomo, a very intentional climb. It would have been foolish to immediately do the return trip without taking time to pause and appreciate the view. And, once we got to ground level again, we discussed what we saw, what amazed us, what we missed seeing in our Florence walk-about, and what we would still do. In other words, we didn’t make the climb only to ignore what we observed. We observed, interpreted, and finally intervened with a new course of action.
Leaders of people, are you ready for a Duomo experience? It’s truly worth it.
Heifetz, R. & Grashow, A, & Linsky, M. (2009). The theory behind the practice. A brief introduction to the adaptive leadership framework. Harvard Business Press. https://cambridge-leadership.com/documents/Ch-2-Theory-Behind-the-Practice.pdf
PSDP-Resources and Tools: Moving from the dance floor to the balcony. https://practice-supervisors.rip.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Moving-from-the-dance- floor-to-the-balcony.pdf
University of Massachusetts (n.d.). 7 steps to effective decision making. https://www.umassd.edu/media/umassdartmouth/fycm/decision_making_process.pdf