A Balcony Perspective
by Carl Tompkins

Far and away, the most difficult and yet most beneficial perspective to maintain in any given situation is referred to as a balcony perspective. Authors Marty Linsky and Ron Heifetz help us understand this scenario in their book Leadership on the Line. They state: “Maintaining the proper perspective is like going to a dance, hearing the band, dancing with a partner, getting caught up in the moment and only seeing the action from a very narrow vantage point.” The dancer is fully engaged, but lacks perspective. If, however, the dancer had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, an entirely different picture would have been seen; a much larger picture providing a better overall perspective of what really is going on.”

Tiny Dancer
People face many difficult and even sometimes threatening situations in business that require us to dive into our problem-solving mode, work with other people and find solutions. Where we become our own worst enemy is when we get so caught up in the action (the dance) and so focused on accomplishing the task at hand (concentrating on getting your dance partner to follow your lead) that we lose our cool, fail to accomplish the mission in the best possible manner and damage relationships to the point where we can’t find anyone willing to dance. What Linsky and Heifetz are trying to teach us is that we must dance but, while we dance, keep in the forefront of our minds the big picture of what is going on, as if we were also observing from the balcony at the same time.

Another angle on this is to consider that in any given situation with people there exist two objectives. The first objective is to accomplish the task at hand while the second is to always be taking into account the many other perspectives that exist within the given situation. The task objective can be best managed and accomplished through the most effective and efficient manner possible when this takes place.

Practice, Practice, Practice
The most respected leaders in business are those who master this process. They enter many stormy situations in business but are able to maintain their cool, arrive at winning solutions that best suit everyone involved while maintaining the respect of others. The reason is because, while they are eager to win, they realize the best way to do so is by keeping in mind the following reinforcing facts:

1. Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, is deemed to be of equal value and should be heard to ensure the provision of the complete picture;

2. All people have strengths and weaknesses equal to that of their own;

3. There are three sides to every story: your side, the other person’s side and the right side;

4. People are never the enemy; the enemy is having unresolved problems;

5. The judging of others makes one a lesser person than those being judged;

6. There is always a way to find a solution that allows everyone to win;

7. The objections and subsequent emotions of others do not form a personal attack but, instead, a cry for help; and

8. Honesty, integrity, professionalism and humility shall never be sacrificed for the sake of politics, egos and pride. 

Now you know why I stated early on that this, the balcony perspective, is the most difficult of habits to maintain. There is little in this world that reinforces our ability to maintain this perspective. While difficult, you’ll never feel more rewarded than if you learn to live by this principle.

Within our own industry we continue to face many difficult situations, individually and collectively. Finding the best pricing structure, achieving acceptable compensation, battling escalating costs, achieving compatibility with networks and always seeming to be asked to do more for less represent a few of the more current and difficult challenges. It is heart-breaking to witness the break up of relationships within our family of industry members, the stress these situations bring, the loss of trust and the frayed emotions that sometimes occur as a result.

I believe that if everyone is committed to live by the balcony perspective and practices incorporating this process, we can win together as an industry. I say “practice” because our human nature disallows our ability to ever reach perfection but, day by day and in every way, we will get better.

A Shining Example
If you don’t think this works, consider the following situation that I witnessed. Two competitors were engaged in a discussion. One of the individuals was notably distressed to the point of tears. While the other person calmly listened, the upset party was saying things such as “Why must we go through this in the industry and how can your company do this to us?” What next happened was truly amazing. 

Once the comments were finished, the person listening reached out with both arms and hugged that competitor saying, “I’m sorry for the feelings this situation has created and I’ll do everything in my power to help us come through this for the betterment of both our organizations.” The wounds were healed and the situation was moved to the position of being resolved.

It would have been easy to understand if the person offering the hug of forgiveness had instead leapt right into battle. The reason this did not occur is because of that person remembering points one through eight and that the balcony perspective was very important.

Remember that there is only one side in our AGR industry. We stand together for the common good of everyone to fight the battles not within our industry, but those that surround us as a team. I promise that you will feel better about the future as well as rewarded as an individual. From the balcony, just watch all the good things that can and will happen. 

Carl Tompkins is the Western states area manager for the Sika Corp. of Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash.