Conflict and strife are all around us. The anxiety in the geo-political landscape seeps into the life of the American Church. People are on edge. Anxiety sticks to some like tar.
What does the leader do?
Go to the balcony.
I didn’t come up with this. Psychologist Ronald Heifetz’s coined the metaphor. I became reacquainted with it while reading the late Peter L. Steinke’s book, Teaching Fish to Walk: Church Systems and Adaptive Challenge. I highly recommend this book. I’m sure I’ll be writing other blogs based on his leadership gems.
Why does Heifetz and Steinke encourage leaders to “go to the balcony”? On the floor, our sights are cramped. We can only see what is right in front of us. We are too deeply connected to the anxious push and pull of what is happening. No one can see the entire picture clearly.
Go up the stairs. Look from the balcony. This sufficient distance will help you “see other possibilities, entertain wild ideas, play with crazy thoughts, and take intuitive leaps.” (Steinke, Teaching Fish to Walk, p. 22)
Our eyes and emotions at the “ground level” can betray us. We can become fused to the swirling emotions of others. We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. We’re stuck. We can end up with what neuroscientists call confirmation bias. “Our sight endorses what we already know.” (Steinke, p. 23)
Steinke learned family systems theory from Edwin Friedman. (Friedman’s book Failure of Nerve is a systems theory classic!) Friedman encouraged people to discover something of their family functioning by “going home and pretending to be an anthropologist, observing the ‘natives’ functioning. Change the vantage point, and you change the frame.
Achieving the emotional distance of the balcony is difficult…but so necessary for healthy leaders.
Here are three key results of going to the “balcony” for leaders.
Less anxiety. Less anxiety allows you to think beyond self-preservation.
More creativity. You see the whole picture. This allows you to see how interconnected relationships are functioning (or not). Like a coach, you start to see how inviting different people to “sit on different seats on the bus” could change the emotional system of the entire congregation, circuit, district or church body.
More hope. Anxiety focuses on now. Hope, especially centered in the crucified, risen, reigning and soon-to-return Jesus Christ, should give us great passion for what God is doing now and in His future.
I yearn for a day when more pastors and leaders learn the habit of consistently going to the balcony. St. Paul invites us there. Jesus is there.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).
The ULC exists to invite local churches, and those who lead the LCMS and her institutions, to go to the balcony. I pray our leaders meet us there. The view with Jesus is fantastic.