Leading From The Dance Floor AND From The Balcony

in Ambition for a Lifetime

Impactful leadership occurs when we are engaged in the choreography both on the floor and from the balcony. I recently heard this phrase when attending a women’s leadership conference. I immediately identified with the message as a servant-leader who rolls up her sleeves alongside those she serves while also maintaining her vantage point on the long-range organizational vision and mission. I was curious where this phrase originated and the earliest article I found was, A Survival Guide for Leaders, Harvard Business Review, 2002 which stated:

“Leadership is an improvisational art. You may be guided by an overarching vision, clear values, and a strategic plan, but what you actually do from moment to moment cannot be scripted. You must respond as events unfold. To use our metaphor, you have to move back and forth from the balcony to the dance floor, over and over again.”

Especially when managing change, we need to fluidly move from participant to observer. Leading from the floor helps you understand systems with an upfront view but getting up in the balcony allows you to watch how those systems interact. Leading from the balcony also gives you the objectivity needed to determine if what you are working on today will help lead your organization to its long-term goals. How do we do this? Here’s a short list:

Leading from the balcony

  • Helping those you lead to see the vision or the WHY.
  • Envision the practices that will achieve the long range plan.
  • Choreograph the systems that support the organization, so it reaches its goal.
  • Be aware that managing change is just as important as the change.
  • Assess the progress toward the vision.

Leading from the floor

  • Take action and put initiatives into place that support the vision.
  • Be present, up front and engaged. What are you hearing from those we serve?
  • Gain personal perspective. Dig in and live it yourself.
  • Coach alongside those you lead.
  • Address resources and navigate obstacles.


Consider scenarios in your family, professional, or AOII volunteer life.  How are you leading from BOTH the floor and the balcony? What are you seeing from your balcony view? Is it aligned to your vision?

If you had to create a Tweet today, about the optimal view from your balcony view, what would it be?

From my balcony, I would like to see…

Now, make a list of things you can do to start leading from the floor to help achieve that view.  If you had to create a Tweet today, about your actions from the floor what would that be?

From the floor, I will…

Dive Deeper

If leadership is an improvisational art, we must practice our behaviors of leadership and find the space to be reflective. Taking the time to renew your soul as a leader is vital and it helps to fine tune your skill set. Inspiration for your leadership can be found in the work of Simon Sinek who says that great leaders inspire action by helping those they lead see the WHY.

Simon Sinek addresses the importance of getting those we lead to the why in this Ted Talk.

For Alumnae Chapters

Arrange for an alumnae chapter retreat much like our collegiate chapters do. Spend a day together diving deep into your vision or your WHY. Doing so will help develop the view you’d like see of your alumnae chapter from the BALCONY. Let’s consider this as a alumnae chapter’s vision from the balcony:

“From the balcony, we would like to see our members engaged with one another with such a spirit of fraternity and love that they are supporting one another as they navigate their family life, careers and service to AOII.”

If the balcony view of your alumnae chapter involves membership engagement, how can you lead from the floor to meet this goal. What actions can you take in the present to impact the long-range goals and vision? Consider these ideas or HOW you can enact your vision:

Leading your alumnae chapter VISION from the floor:

  • Attend new member lessons to talk about the alumnae experience
  • Partner with Alumnae Relations Chair to co-host an alumnae career speakers event with collegians.
  • Create a mentoring program for new alumnae
  • Announce a sisterhood weekend away
  • Create fun incentives for alumnae chapter membership recruitment
  • Collect contact info for your graduating seniors to introduce them to local alumnae chapters.
  • Host an annual signature event to strategically recruit new members
  • Organize an AOII family day event.
  • Develop a communication plan for the chapter to increase its outreach

Jaynellen Jenkins is an alumna of Phi Beta (East Stroudsburg U) and a member of the Education Committee.

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