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  • Mike Diercks

Balcony Space


As a senior leader, one of your most important duties is the creation, communication and caretaking of the company’s vision along with the development of strategies drive this vision. And, if you are like most executives, it is the most neglected.

Rarely, when I am talking with a business owner or senior leader, do they start defining their role as the “caretaker” of the vision. Why? The demands of day-to-day running and leading a business steals the time and energy required to do this higher-level work. What is needed is creating intentional “balcony space”.

Ronald Heifetz, Director of the Leadership Education Project at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, coined the phrase “balcony space.” Consider being in crowded dance floor, busy lecture hall, a room where you can only see your immediate surroundings. The “balcony” is that place where you can escape the busy, noisy, crowded room and move to obtain a better view of the entire setting, gaining a panoramic perspective.

This perspective, where you see the whole landscape, past, present, and future, is essential for visionary and strategic thinking. It is nearly impossible to think about the big picture when you’re engulfed in a sea of immediate issues that are constantly banging on your door, demanding your attention.

How do you create “balcony space”? Here are five simple tips to help you step out of your hurried, demanding environment.

1. Schedule a balcony day. If you expect a day when “things will be quieter” you are mistaken. These days don’t just “show up”. Put “balcony space” on your calendar. Commit to at least a half-day -- ideally, a whole day should be set aside. You schedule this at least four times a year. Treat this appointment as if you were meeting with your most important client. Nothing less than a tragedy should drag you away from this commitment. These have to be your most important meetings a year!

2. Don’t go alone. Ask another leader or your entire leadership team to go to the balcony with you. If you don’t have another leader or a leadership team, invite a trusted colleague. You’ll be more focused and creative. Also, you will be able to talk through ideas and strategies.

3. Clear your plate. There are others in your organization that can handle the regular activities and even unexpected emergencies during your balcony day. Treat this day the same you would if you went to a conference, had an all-day client meeting, or, even, a vacation day. Delegate or delay work but DO NOT bring it with you. Do not go to the office before you start your “balcony space” to see how things are going.

4. Expect a plan. Your balcony day should either set or reestablish the vision for the company and establish key priorities and strategies. You should expect to walk away with a message to communicate to the organization. A clear vision, specific strategies, and key performance indicators as well as an action plan for making things happen.

5. Don’t feel guilty. Some people feel they have abandoned their duties to the organization. They skipped the “real work” and went on a “boondoggle”. Do not apologize – to your team or yourself – this is the most important part of your job!!!

If you don’t go to the balcony, who will?

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