The Real Work of Leaders Happens on the Balcony

Personal note:

Dear Reader,

This post published at 7:30 a.m. EST. While standing in line to board a plane, my editor told me I needed an apostrophe on one of the words. When I fixed it I messed up the post and sent out a title for another post. I have no idea where it came from.

To make matters worse, the plane from Philly to Dallas didn’t have Internet.

Thanks for your patience. Here’s the original.



P.S. here’s the post that went out by accident. All it is is a title! It has some great comments. How Unpredictable Conditions Can Produce Radical Innovation.

The Real Work of Leaders Happens on the Balcony

When it feels like you’re talking about the same issues for the third time, go to the balcony. Reflect on patterns.

Bias toward action blocks your ability to notice patterns.

You can’t see the big picture when you’re lost in the weeds.

7 pattern-recognition questions:

  1. When has this happened before? How often?
  2. Who was involved?
  3. What was the solution?
  4. Why is this returning?
  5. Who should be part of the conversation?
  6. What outcome would you prefer?
  7. How might you establish new patterns?

Ronald Heifetz and Donald L.Laurie call this going to the balcony. (HBR)

History and patterns:

In a recent conversation with a coaching client the idea of reflecting on history came up. Consider how far you’ve come. Explore points of pride and concern. What worked in the past? How might you get to the next level?

Pattern recognition requires you to step back, take a breath, and rethink the present.

The real work of leadership:

  1. Work on the way things are done. Spend time in meetings developing team dynamics, for example. Neglect produces negative patterns.
  2. Work to strengthen connections between team members. The strength of an organization is measured by the depth of connection between team members.
  3. Work on making work easier.Where are the energy drains?
    • What would you like to do when someone makes work harder for others?
    • How might you eliminate unnecessary rules?
  4. Work to bringing out the best in others. List the top three strengths of each team member. Are they doing the right job?
    • List each team member‘s motivations. What fuels their fire? How might you pour gas on their fire?
    • Know the formative stories of each team member. What makes them tick?  
  5. Work yourself out of jobs.

Your job is to give your job to others so you can press into the future.

How might leaders recognize patterns?

What is the “real” work of leadership?