Never Lead Without A Balcony

A few years ago, I stumbled across David McKenna’s book Never Blink In A Thunderstorm. The title was drawn from the homespun wisdom of President Lyndon Bains Johnson who declared, “Being a leader is like being a jack-ass in a Texas thunderstorm, sometimes you just need to stand there and take it!” Overall, McKenna gifts us with a series of essays based on his long experience of leading in complex seasons and situations.  It is this complexity that perhaps prompted another chapter, ‘Never Lead Without A Balcony.’  It is his way of framing a simple yet vital discipline that every leader must develop - the discipline of taking time to thoughtfully, prayerfully, and critically discern the larger movements in one’s leadership context.

Ronald Heifetz, echoes the need for this balcony discipline in his works on adaptive leadership.   He points out how easy it is to get caught up and taken away by the whirl of everyday action.  We get captivated and captured by the motion on the dance floor and quickly lose sense of wider movements in our context. His advice - Get on the balcony!

So how do we “get on the balcony?”  How do we actually get above the fray and see the bigger picture of our context?

This balcony discipline might involve the following:

  1. Block out time every week for getting perspective on the overall picture of your leadership context and system. Get away to a coffee shop or a quiet spot if this will help you focus better.

  2. Create and maintain a one, two, or three page summary of your entire ministry area. The present ministries and initiatives under your care / the make up of your team—List every coach, leader, apprentice, special event person, project team member, large group organizers, and team/task force members.

  3. Brood over this current reality / Pray for your leaders / Pray over the gaps and missing pieces / Take time to look beyond the waves of this month or season to longer term issues, needs and opportunities.

  4. On the Balcony remind yourself of your role – As Pastoral leaders - ”We are here to serve, support, encourage, and equip people towards effective and sustainable ministry.” We are paid equippers! So within your balcony time come back to this question “Who do I/we serve?”

  5. Laying out your team strengthening strategy. What are your priority/immediate needs? What will be your next step(s)? Be specific and time focused on how and when these strategies will unfold.

  6. Accelerate the power of this discipline by letting a team member or supervisor in on what you have discovered and resolved to address in the weeks ahead.

The ‘balcony discipline’ is a life giver, a ministry strengthener, and a leadership multiplier.  Never lead without a balcony!

Terry Young is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose University, Calgary, AB, Canada