The #1 Mistake Senior Executives Make
The more I train/facilitate people closer to the organizational top, the more I am led to believe that confusions (lack of clarity) unfavorably magnify bottom up. To put it straight, in my management career and now the full time training and consultancy business, I have seen senior executives across industries leading from either the BALCONY, or the FLOOR- which is actually a problem. Let’s start understanding this from both the perspectives starting from the balcony.
Leading from the Balcony
The term balcony in leadership got popular from the time authors Heifetz and Linsky wrote the Harvard piece ‘Leadership without Easy Answers.’ In this concept, senior executives view the company from a high balcony point. This gives them a strategic oversight, and helps them adjust the sails from the very top.
For example, a leader leading from the balcony would give maximum autonomy and minimum guidance to the team to act, whilst watching the show at the top. He/she would not stop the show at intervals, but would wait for the end points to make changes, delayed or on time.
THE PROBLEM- here is that such leaders miss out on connecting well with people performing at the bottom, and in the middle. This view puts a leader at a relatively disjointed position i.e. balcony, where decision-making may reflect an absence of on-ground complexity.
Leading from the Floor
Now, let’s understand the floor perspective. Leading from the floor is more adventurous, implying that senior executives view the organization by being on the floor – where the action happens.
For instance, a leader leading from the floor will be part of the show throughout, not acting forsure but being omnipresent. He/she at almost all occasions will be able to gather a quick pulse-check on the organization at all levels.
THE PROBLEM-here is that big picture is often lost. The detail orientation of leaders in such case gets way too meticulous knowingly or unknowingly, with macro management missing. Such leaders gain great momentum in organization, but by virtue become task masters at strategic level.
Solution- Modern organizations need senior executives who are experts at moving from the balcony to the floor and back again. These leaders understand the valuable data the floor offers, and appreciate the broad view of the balcony.
Last month, while conducting a leadership retreat in Islamabad (Pakistan) for one of my Pharmaceutical client, I pitched this idea. The Managing Director of the company subsequently got back to me telling me that he now has begun planning quarterly floor sessions for each of his boardroom balcony team members, which he calls as ‘touch the floor’ exercise. Likewise, he has initiated another juxtapose drive for the same senior executives called as ‘get up in the balcony’ that moves them from the floor to the balcony, enabling them to take a clearer perspective of everything in conjunction.
The point is that standing in the balcony for longer periods is as detrimental for senior executives in business as it is being on the floor prolonged. The key then is not leading from the balcony ‘or’ the floor, but the balcony ‘and’ the floor.
About the Author
Mansoor Soomro works with Learning Minds Group (LMG) as a Senior Consultant & Executive Coach. In line with his passion, he has trained diverse professionals from different industries in Pakistan and the Middle East. He was selected as one of 30 Global Young Leaders (GYL) by the World Bank, and thereon was invited to speak at the Global Youth Forum 2010 (Brussels).