Tuesday Tip: Getting off the ‘dance floor’: The most important of leadership habits

By Keith Coats

Adaptive Leadership

The Problem:

You are in the position of leadership that you are (or have the responsibilities you have) because you were the best out of the many doing the ‘dance’ at the time of your selection. You were ‘dancing better than he rest’, got noticed and were promoted. 

The problem is that the greater the leadership responsibility, the more you feel the need to keep dancing. Too many leaders are spending too much time on the dance floor when where they need to be is on the balcony.

When the dance is changing (as it is like never before) it is from the balcony that you can get the necessary perspective to see the change and what needs changing; when you are on the dance floor your perspective is limited to your immediate surroundings. You need to get off the dance floor.

The Solution:

So how can we go about getting off the dance floor?

Should you think that you (and your team) are spending too much time on the dance floor, a simply way to test this assumption would be to review your last 6 months of leadership agendas. Take a look at the items making up that agenda and ask yourself, ‘how many are dance floor items and how many are balcony items?’ You might well find that you and your team are spending too much time on managing the dance rather than being on the balcony.

Before you discuss this with others (your team) first start with trying to develop the balcony habit at a personal level. Here would be three helpful questions to assist you in this undertaking:

  1. What is your dance floor? In which areas are you getting too pulled into the details – the ‘nuts & bold’ of operational issues? Why is this so? It may be because you enjoy this involvement; it is what ‘you know’ and do best; it could be because a dependency has developed on your presence / input or perhaps, it is something that you have always done and regardless of additional responsibilities, you have simply kept on doing it out of habit and / or routine.
  2. How can you (having identified your ‘dance floor’), get off it? What are the practical things you need to put in place to extract yourself from the dance? Don’t think it is as easy as ‘walking off’ – it seldom is that straightforward or that simple. Nonetheless, you need to get off the floor and you need to identify the practical steps necessary to achieve this undertaking. The practical ways in which you will move away from the dance floor will be determined by exactly ‘what is the dance floor’ and the specific context involved. You don’t need an ‘A,B,C’ type suggestion here; you will know what it will take as you answer questions #1 and #3.
  3. .What will be the implications of getting off the dance floor? You need to think through the implications of extracting yourself from the dance floor. Anticipating these implications will help you deal responsibly with the ensuing results. Things might get worse before the benefits of your removal become obvious to all. Be prepared for this possible ‘fall-out’. Thinking through the implications and what it is that you are trying to achieve will help strengthen your resolve in moving to the balcony. In a disruptive and fast changing world, the benefits of being on the balcony – and the perspective afforded are immense.

Tip: It might be helpful to answer questions 1 & 3 before tackling question 2


The ‘dance floor / balcony’ analogy comes from Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow & Marty Linsky’s outstanding book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership (Harvard Business Press). Their book outlines the Adaptive Leadership model, which in my opinion, is the most robust and well suited leadership framework for leading in a changing world. They also provide practical tools and exercises in applying the model. It is well worth reading…and doing!

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