February 12, 2024 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Ephesians 5:15-17 (NRSV)
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
If you want to do the inner work of leadership, if you want to see yourself with new clarity and perspective, then you need to make your way to the balcony, so to speak. Do whatever helps you to see your life and leadership from a perspective that promotes your growth in wisdom.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: A Biblical Guide to Inner Work.
When I was a boy, the sanctuary of my church had an expansive balcony, one that had room for at least 500 people. I loved sitting in the balcony, but not so I could goof off in worship. Rather, I enjoyed the perspective from the balcony, There I could see, not just the pastors sitting on the chancel, but also the choir, the organist, the communion servers, and hundreds of my fellow worshipers. The view from the balcony was much better as far as I was concerned.
Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linksy, in their writings on leadership (see yesterday’s devotion), often recommend that leaders head for the balcony if they want to lead adaptive change. They’re not speaking of a literal balcony, of course. Rather, the balcony is a place where leaders get some distance from the action in their organization. They can see what’s going on from a fresh perspective, observing things they might overlook when they’re in the middle of the action.
Now, as leaders peer down from their metaphorical balcony, they’re not looking only at the others in their organization. They should also be observing themselves. But this isn’t easy to do, according to Heifetz and Linsky. They observe, “The most difficult part to notice is what you do yourself [no matter your role]. So you might imagine looking down on the room from a sky camera and seeing yourself as merely another player in the game” (Leadership on the Line, p. 52).
As you gaze upon yourself from the balcony, you have the opportunity to do what’s commended in Ephesians 5:15: “Be careful then how you live.” Or as I paraphrased it yesterday, “Pay close attention to how you’re living.” As you imagine yourself doing your daily work, interacting with others, exercising leadership, solving problems, and so forth, what do you see? What’s going on around you? What’s going on inside of you?
The second half of Ephesians 5:15 says that we’re to live “not as unwise people but as wise.” So much could be said about what it means to be wise. (In fact, Uli Chi, one of our regular Life for Leaders writers, has a wonderful book coming out in May with the title: The Wise Leader.) I think we might all agree that wise people see life from an unusual perspective. They aren’t so zeroed in on what’s right before them that they miss the big picture. They look upon things as if from a balcony, or, as it’s often described, “from 30,000 feet.”
Growth in wisdom doesn’t come automatically or easily. For Christians, it comes through the study of Scripture, mutual learning in Christian community, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and, most of all, from knowing Jesus Christ, who is God’s wisdom incarnate (see 1 Cor 1:24, 30; Col 2:2-3). We who follow Jesus can grow in godly wisdom by making our way to the balcony. We need to step back from the intense action of our lives and get a wider and deeper perspective. Plus, as Heifetz and Linsky remind us, we need a wider and deeper perspective on ourselves. In my experience, every person I consider to be wise has done the inner work of paying close attention to how they’re living, leading, thinking, and feeling. I’ve never once been tempted to think: “Hmmm. That person is certainly wise, but they don’t know themselves very well.”
If getting to the balcony is essential for growing in wisdom, then you would surely want to know where your balcony is and how to spend regular time there. For me, ironically, getting up on a mountain helps me to look down upon my life and leadership from a balcony perspective. That’s one of the reasons I love hiking. It enables me to get up high enough to reflect upon my life. For some reason, as I gaze down upon a city or a forest, I can see my life, work, and leadership more clearly. Your balcony could be a mountaintop, a beach, a comfortable chair in your den, a quiet chapel, a conversation with a friend, or . . . . You’ll know what helps you to gain a new perspective on many things, including yourself.
What helps you to get some distance from your work in order to see it from a different perspective?
Can you remember a time when you stepped back from the busyness of your life and were able to see with fresh insight?
Who are the people in your life whom you consider to be wise? Why do you think of them in this way? How did they get to be wise?
Reach out to someone whom you believe is wise. Ask them what has helped them to grow in wisdom. See if there is something in their life that you can imitate.
Gracious God, thank you for the “balcony” in our lives. Thank you for the times we can get away from our work to see more clearly and reflect more deeply. Thank you for guiding us so that we might grow in wisdom.
I ask that you help me to identify my balcony and to make time to go there. And when I get to the balcony, may I be attentive to your voice. May I see with your eyes. May I learn what you would want me to know. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: What Helps You Pay Attention to How You’re Living? Part 5.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.