“Practising leadership: basic principles” with Ronald Heifetz

I am currently attending a course at Harvard University entitled “Practicing Leadership: Fundamentals”, led by Ronald Heifetz, a globally recognized expert on leadership. Heifetz offers a new perspective on leadership, where he imagines leadership as a dance floor. In this metaphor, the dance floor is a place of action, while the balcony is a place of reflection and broader perspective. A balance between the two is essential for effective leadership. The most common leadership failures stem from misdiagnosis.

My personal and professional development has reached a next stage. I am taking a very exciting course at Harvard University:

“Exercising leadership: basic principles” With Ronald Heifetz.

This training is led by Ronald Heifetz, a globally recognised authority on business leadership, who is fundamentally reshaping what it means to be a leader in an ever-changing world.

He argues that the dominant view of leadership, where the leader has the vision and the rest is just a sales problem, is fundamentally flawed.

Heifetz says this approach only works for technical problems where there is a right answer and an expert knows what it is. (so not applicable to adaptive problems)

Heifetz challenges traditional views of leadership and uses a powerful metaphor as an example:

Imagine driving as a dance floor.

When we dance, we are in the action itself, and we only see those who are right next to us. But when we step back, go up to the balcony, we gain a broader perspective. This movement between action and reflection is vital for effective driving.

(It allows us to understand where we are, what has happened and how to move forward.)

Just as sports legends did (like Magic Johnson and Bobby Orr), managers need to be fully engaged in the game while keeping the whole game situation in mind. They need to see the larger patterns that others miss and act on their observations.

Leaders also need to see or create the context for change.

Without the ability to move between the action area (the dance floor) and the balcony, without the ability to perform daily, moment-by-moment reflection, a driver can easily and unknowingly become a prisoner of the system.


In fact, the most common failures in leadership are diagnostic. If we get the problem wrong, we usually get the action wrong. This is simple logic. If the doctor misdiagnoses you, you will not get the right therapy, so your problem will not be solved.

As I continue my studies at Harvard, I am committed to keeping this reflection – movement between the dance floor and the balcony – alive. I encourage all leaders to do the same.

Spend as much time on your “balcony” as you do on the “dance floor”. Reflect, diagnose and then return to the dance floor ready to lead with greater insight and effectiveness.

Stay tuned for more insights, I’ll be bringing you lots of thought-provoking and immediately actionable techniques from Harvard!

Learn with me and let’s grow together!