Leadership Perspective: Navigating Dance Floor vs. Balcony

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function– F. Scott Fitzerland 

An idea that has shaped my thinking of business presentations is the metaphor of the dance floor and the balcony. It is the ability to jump in and see the details and step back to see the bigger picture. 

This idea is beautifully captured by Ronald Heifetz (King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government). In the book, “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading” he notes:

Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom. . . . Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner, and you reserve whatever is left to make sure you don’t collide with dancers close by. . . . When someone asks you later about the dance, you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with dancers.”

But, if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns. . . you might have noticed that when slow music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all. . . . the dancers all clustered at one end of the floor, as far away from the band as possible. . . . You might have reported that participation was sporadic, the band played too loud, and you only danced to fast music.

. . .The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray. . . .

If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.

Great business presenters understand this need to be on the dance-floor and on the balcony. They find harmony between the two in their business presentations.

They can paint the overarching vision and also jump into the financial details. They can describe where we need to be in 3-5 years at the same time delve into what we need right now. 

They instinctively know, the magic is in going back and forth between the two.

Where are you spending your time? On the dance-floor? Or, on the balcony?

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