One of my favourite quotes is that of Friedrich Nietzsche who once wrote, “Those who were seen dancing, were thought to be crazy, by those who could not hear the music.”
Hearing the ‘music’ is an important leadership attribute and one that can be intentionally cultivated. It is the ability to ‘hear’ what others fail to hear and then invite others into the ‘dance’ that to the outsider, seems ludicrous.
Steve Jobs achieved as much at Apple with his dream of the iPad dating back to 1983 – when such notions were simply foolish. He could hear music that others could not and was able to get others to dance to that music when most couldn’t hear any music!
One of the practical ways in which leaders can develop this ‘finer sense of hearing’ is to practice the art of what we refer to as ‘getting on the balcony’. This practice comes from Ron Heifetz’s ‘adaptive leadership’ model and is an essential leadership habit to cultivate. Getting on the ‘balcony’ is the ability to step back from the dance floor in order to gain a different perspective from the one gained by being on the dance floor. It is the ability to see the bigger picture and the ‘whole’ as opposed to reacting to an immediate sense of one’s surroundings. There are times when being on the dance floor is important for leaders but, being on the balcony, is more important.
Hearing the music that is mute to others will require this ‘stepping back’ – stepping away from the day-to-day things that monopolise and clamour for our attention. It is the ability to see and to question what goes unnoticed and unheard to most. It is a discipline that can be cultivated and is something that smart leaders work at consistently. It might take some time and patience to ‘hear the music’ but developing the habit of the balcony is sure to result in a finer sense of hearing for the leader.
Of course, stepping back and ‘hearing the music’ is only half the challenge; the next part – inviting others into the dance, is essential. Leadership is defined by followership. Most of you would have seen the YouTube clip that did the rounds of the young man dancing alone on a grass bank only to be joined by another dancer and then soon after that, by several others. The lesson the clip highlighted was the importance of the first follower in achieving the goal of getting the participation of many. Essentially this is a lesson in getting others to hear the music and then join the dance.
Of course Nietzsche has gifted us with several other insights that are perhaps more familiar to our everyday hearing: ‘that which does not kill us makes us stronger’ and ‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how’.
But I still like the one we have briefly thought about and so I guess my only question to you as a leader is, ‘what is the music you are hearing?’