14 episodes

On The Balcony is a podcast for change agents, executives and people who care about developing others.

In this kick-off season Michael Koehler and his guests examine Ronald Heifetz’s landmark book: “Leadership Without Easy Answers,” the framework behind the most inspiring leadership class at Harvard University. The show offers powerful reflections and live coaching on today’s most pressing challenges.

Learn more about Michael and his work at www.konu.org

On The Balcony KONU

    • Business
    • 5.0 • 12 Ratings

On The Balcony is a podcast for change agents, executives and people who care about developing others.

In this kick-off season Michael Koehler and his guests examine Ronald Heifetz’s landmark book: “Leadership Without Easy Answers,” the framework behind the most inspiring leadership class at Harvard University. The show offers powerful reflections and live coaching on today’s most pressing challenges.

Learn more about Michael and his work at www.konu.org

    The Evolution of Leadership Without Easy Answers with Professor Ronald Heifetz

    The Evolution of Leadership Without Easy Answers with Professor Ronald Heifetz

    On today’s season finale of On the Balcony, Michael Kohler welcomes Professor Ronald Heifetz, author of Leadership Without Easy Answers, the book that has formed the focus of this season. Professor Heifetz is among the world’s foremost authorities on the practice and teaching of leadership. His work addresses two challenges: developing a conceptual foundation for the analysis and practice of leadership and developing transformative methods for leadership education, training, and consultation. Heifetz  opens the episode by discussing how his own thinking in  last thirty years has been shaped by his role as a parent. He points out that parenting is fundamentally a series of adaptive challenges requiring the ability to deal with the unpredictable—a good model for thinking about the ongoing stream of challenges that organizations, companies, governments, and our societies as a whole are facing. Michael then asks Ron to reflect on the development of Leadership Without Easy Answers and how the Leadership Studies field has evolved since its publication. Heifetz shares some of the family history and personal experiences that influenced his thinking and led him to consider how charismatic authority emerges and how to teach leadership practice that would avoid the temptations of grandiosity and power. He also discusses his process of realizing that authority is not fundamentally bad or unnecessary but is an integral part of social relationships with its own virtues and significance and must be wielded with responsibility and trustworthiness.
    On the subject of trust, Heifetz next points out how common it is to experience violations or abuses of trust by authority and how many of us learn to distrust it as a result. He uses the example of politicians to illustrate this, pointing out that the fear of negativity often leads to a lack of trust on both sides of the relationship with their constituents, resulting in pandering rather than transformative leadership. He also points out that the COVID pandemic provided a useful set of cases to illustrate the impact of trust, with countries with lower trust in authority having higher death rates, the US being a prime example. Heifetz goes on to discuss the work of repairing and restoring trust, including encouraging those in roles of authority to develop a mindset of ongoing repair instead of an entitlement to trust. He also focuses on the challenge of mobilizing people to do adaptive work and the importance of developing new, more empathetic strategies for creating sustainable change in the hearts and minds of those who resist it. In order to make progress, he states that it’s essential that those in positions of authority and privilege are involved in the adaptive work, so we must resist the urge to resort to a cheap binary-ism of rejection and understand the difficulty of jettisoning one’s culture and traditions wholesale. And, to close the episode and the season, Heifetz shares his thoughts on what the future holds for him and his framework, including a refocusing of Leadership Studies onto cultural innovation and evolution.
    The Finer Details of This Episode:
    The adaptive challenges of parenthoodThe evolution of the Leadership Studies fieldThe virtues and significance of authorityHow politicians can lead and stay aliveQuotients of trust and the COVID pandemicThe practice of repairing and restoring trustActivism and mobilizing people to do adaptive workThe need for leadership at the micro levelThe future for Leadership Studies

    “We can’t afford to have an allergic reaction to authority systems just because they’ve been abusive to many of us historically.”
    “We all are designed to seek validation, affirmation, and even affection.”

    • 1 hr 8 min
    Preserving Purpose with Susanna Krueger

    Preserving Purpose with Susanna Krueger

    In this episode of On the Balcony, Michael welcomes guest Susanna Krueger, a serial social entrepreneur and former CEO of Save the Children Germany, the oldest and largest independent child’s rights organization in the world. She’s here to engage with the final chapter of Ron Heifetz’s Leadership Without Easy Answers, entitled “The Personal Challenge,” which outlines a set of reflective questions you can ask yourself to better practice leadership around difficult adaptive work. Susanna begins the conversation by highlighting Heifetz’s point about the loneliness of leadership and how feelings of frustration or helplessness vis-a-vis massive complex challenges can be mirrored at the top and in the whole organization. She then discusses how engaging with purpose is a key aspect of the art of leadership and that this requires the skill of listening to people and asking them what the current opportunity for them is. Susanna illustrates this with the example of the international podcast she set up, which became a form of cultural engagement for the Save the Children community.
    Next, Susanna discusses the flaws in international aid, particularly that it too often plays to what is in the aid-givers’ interests instead of asking what those in need really want. She suggests that a change to the framework of aid, particularly in the developmental space, is needed but can only be implemented by finding the right partners and allowing for flexibility and learning. Susanna also tackles the pressures on authority to fix and solve and the difficulty of living in the ambiguity of leading people while having to navigate your own course. She brings up Heifetz’s point that people project onto their leaders and highlights the importance of distinguishing oneself from one’s role through inner development, sharing some of the methods she uses to do so. And finally, Susanna discusses the new platform she is building with the aim of connecting people who want to invest in good causes with each other and projects with sustainable development goals.
    The Finer Details of This Episode:
    The loneliness of leadershipPreserving a sense of purposeShifting the framework of aidLiving in the ambiguity of leadershipBuilding a community for social change
    “You cannot impose developmental contexts and developmental goals and impact goals from a Western point of view. It will fail because it is not what generates from the community.”
    “The purpose of development can only originate in communities when they say what they want by themselves.”
    “People will tell you, ‘We want more leadership. I want more direction.’ And then you have to sit in this place and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know, and I will give it to you, but I will give it to you in a certain way and in a certain structure, but not as you expect.’”
    “The level of listening requires us to access other things than just logic. It requires open conversation and the capacity to connect.”
    “I want to be a part of changing the world into a better place in a humble way, where I can be in my fullest, and where I can connect to people, and where I can help others to be their best.”
    On the Balcony on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast
    Leadership Without Easy Answers on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Without-Answers
    Save the Children - https://www.savethechildren.org/
    Project bcause - a href="https://bcause.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer"...

    • 40 min
    “Assassination” - Leadership as a Dangerous Activity with George Papandreou, Part Two

    “Assassination” - Leadership as a Dangerous Activity with George Papandreou, Part Two

    On the eleventh episode of the On the Balcony podcast, Michael continues his conversation with George A. Papandreou, former Prime Minister of Greece, about Chapter 10 of Heifetz’s Leadership Without Easy Answers. Papandreou picks up the discussion by sharing how Heifetz inspired his decision to stage an intervention through an inclusive approach, encouraging the Greek people to take their future in their own hand. His proposal of a referendum was part of this emphasis on inclusion, but it was met by a backlash from the traditional political world, ultimately causing Papandreou’s decision to resign to allow the creation of a new coalition. Papandreou explains that he believes his actions have ultimately been viewed as the right move but that the hesitancy of the old power structures may have lost the opportunity to do deeper adaptive work in the country.
    Next, Papandreou discusses his experience as Greek Foreign Minister while dealing with Turkish/Greek relations. He explains that he tackled the tension between both sides by opening a dialogue with his counterpart İsmail Cem, both men finding someone they could trust and thereby beginning to make progress in their discussions. This led to an approach they called “people’s diplomacy”, involving citizens in foreign policy and working together to reframe the countries’ relationship from animosity to one of mutual benefit. Papandreou shares his belief that these kinds of values are what should motivate good leadership, allowing for an approach to conflict that is not angry or violent but respects the dignity of the other, an important part of the adaptive challenge of making change.
    The Finer Details of This Episode:
    Inclusive leadershipTaking a hit to make progressUsing communication to lower tensions and heatBuilding trust through “people’s diplomacy”Managing Pain and LossThe values of leadershipPacing the workProviding technical expertise while also working on the deeper issues
    “I was giving power to our citizens: you can make the decision. And the traditional political world didn’t like this because, had the decision been a positive one in this plebiscite, in this referendum, the other parties would have no say, they would’ve lost power. And many others. So inclusion is not a simple thing. You are basically changing the power structure, and the old power structures will very possibly react to this.”
    “We showed that we can rethink, reframe this relationship from one of animosity to putting it into a different frame and saying, ‘Okay, what if we can work together? What are the benefits of working together?’ And actually, one of the benefits was very, very clear: we had about three million in trade; in a few years, we had three billion in trade.”
    “In times of distress, in times of difficulty and uncertainty, it may be just the values that are the anchor, or if you like, the compass. It’s not trying to find a scapegoat. It is those values where you can say, ‘I am trying to be consistent with working with these values.’”
    “Democracy is a way to solve conflict through peaceful means, through debate, by respecting the dignity of the other.”
    “If you can really give a sense of dignity, that people feel dignified, they feel they’re being respected, they’re being recognized, their voice is being heard, their pain is being heard, that is very important in this adaptive challenge, to make those changes.”
    On the Balcony on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast
    Leadership Without Easy Answers on Amazon:a href="https://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Without-Answers" rel="noopener noreferrer"...

    • 23 min
    “Assassination” - Leadership as a Dangerous Activity with George Papandreou, Part 1

    “Assassination” - Leadership as a Dangerous Activity with George Papandreou, Part 1

    On the tenth episode of the On the Balcony podcast, Michael Kohler welcomes a most fitting guest to discuss Heifetz’s book, particularly the chapter entitled “Assassination”.  Former Prime Minister of Greece, George A. Papandreou will be joining the podcast for two episodes to discuss Chapter 10 of Leadership Without Easy Answers, and its impact upon his role in salvaging the Greek economy in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the hunt for scapegoats when things got heated and people had to endure real losses, and the immense challenges of adaptive work.  He opens up the episode with an exploration of why it was meaningful for him to serve his country , despite his efforts being met with resistance, outrage, and disagreement.  
    Papandreou also goes on to elaborate what it’s like to be a figure of authority and become a lightning rod, especially in the wake of a global crisis that pitted the countries in the EU against one another.  Both he and Kohler recall the hate and fear that festered on the continent during this time of distress and why change was so hard to enact. So on this very special episode of On the Balcony, listen in as two experts discuss how to lead a divided society, what challenges arise for an authority figure in such circumstances, and why the desire for order and a semblance of normalcy often supersedes compassion and empathy.
    The Finer Details of This Episode:
    Choosing to stay and serve GreeceLooking to leaders to take pain awayActing as lightning rod post 2008The hunt for scapegoatsThe challenges of adaptive workDistress’ dangerous snowball effect Internal and external legitimacy
    “On the surface were surprisingly big budget deficits that showed up when he took office, leading to higher interest rates in an uncertain market. Remember, this is only a year after the global financial crisis in 2008.”
    “We'll hear about the strategies he deployed as prime minister, but also learn how hard it was for him to lead beyond his authority. For example, when he tried to reframe the challenge from being a Greek challenge only to being a European challenge.”
    “I was born. Then I was a refugee with my parents in Sweden and Canada, and then studied in England. So being Greek was basically a choice, and I decided I will come to serve my country.”
    “When the leader is not taking the pain away or can't take the pain away fast enough, then they find a new one.”
    "The idea of politics comes from the idea of a citizen. Basically it is the revelation that we actually can change our fate. We don't have to wait for a savior, we don't have to wait for some high authority, we don't want some high authority to concentrate power and decide for us."
    "I was called to lead the country in its most difficult moments, and actually that's an honor."
    “So going back to normal is in one way, very passive… Obviously, going back to normal means going back to where the problems actually began.”
    “So you find a scapegoat, and you build your own constituency, on hate and on fear. And you'll empower your own constituency, but you don't empower them to actually make change; you empower them to hate somebody else…it's a power that divides society in a terrible way.”
    “It's also easy to move towards a sort of isolationism, you know, build walls, close down your house, close the shutters, and let the storm go by.”
    “Severe distress can make people cruel.  Empathy, compassion, and flexibility of mind are sacrificed to the desperate desire for order.”
    “So, in Greece, I had the authority to make the changes.  Outside of Greece, I was the leper in a sense.”
    On the Balcony on Apple Podcasts:a...

    • 39 min
    Leadership Breakthroughs Around Racial Justice with Ashley B. Stewart

    Leadership Breakthroughs Around Racial Justice with Ashley B. Stewart

    On the ninth episode of the On the Balcony podcast, Michael welcomes Ashley B. Stewart to talk about Chapter 9 of Ron Heifetz’s, Leadership Without Easy Answers, the importance of pushing boundaries, taking risks and managing the dangers of practicing leadership  building from Ashley’s experience working as an Executive Coach, Transformation Facilitator, and Racial Consciousness Consultant as well as Executive Director for Talent and Organizational Development in the Baltimore City Public School System. 
    Koehler and Stewart recall the 1965 Civil Rights activists who transformed and spearheaded the movement’s success while putting their lives on the line. Stewart analyzes how people without formal or informal authority practice leadership not despite, but because of their lack of power. He makes powerful connections to the racial justice work today and explores what it means to regulate the heat and orchestrate learning. 
    The Finer Details of This Episode: 
    The dangers of practicing leadership without authority 1965 Civil Rights activists successes and strategies The risk in pushing boundaries and becoming a lighting rod. Ashley’s experience in the public school systemWhy improvisation is necessary 
    "I'm black. And I pull on that part of my identity first. Because it is the part of my identity that I think has had the most harm done to it, is the part of my identity that needs the most repair.”
    “I lived in a society where I got a steady diet that black is less than, and that people of color are not worthy of, or in some cases, not even whole humans. And so I have my own journey to walk around my internalized subordination and internalized oppression.”
    “At every opportunity, I try to tell myself that black is amazing. It's beautiful. Period.”
    “They decided to push Selma past the breaking point, and that meant that the nation and the federal government would have to provide a holding environment. It also meant that people might die.”
    "What comes to me when I hear you read that text is the risk, the risk of not knowing what happens beyond the boundary, beyond the breaking point. It also conjures up in my mind, sort of this imagery of watershed moments, bloodshed, the spattering of blood from hard work and sacrifice, shedding of tears."
    "What I was doing to this person was the very thing we don't want people to do to young people, which is to ‘other’. Which is to see them as an outcast, which is to like, feel the provocation and take it personally, and then try to push them aside. And that's what I did with my, with my, with my authority, until I realized with lots of coaching and lots of support from colleagues and family, I realized that, while I disagreed wholeheartedly with what this person was standing on, I respected the fact that it was drawing me to learn."
    "A characteristic or aspect of white supremacy culture… is like, ‘There's one way to do it, and that's it, and we're not engaging other perspectives.’ And I engaged the perspectives that made me feel good. I engaged the perspectives that checked, double-clicked my ideas, that co-signed my initiatives, but I didn't listen to the naysayers. I didn't hear the provocation. I didn't hear the hole-poking. I wasn't open to acknowledging the space between the values I espoused and the values I was actually living."
    "One of the things that I'm reminded from this article is that people without formal power still have all kinds of power, and it is sometimes work avoidance to spend too much time equivocating about how much power I have or don't have in relation to someone else. And probably more powerful taking stock of that which I can actually harness and wield."
    “Everyone can lead because everybody can...

    • 42 min
    Bridging Factions While Leading without Authority with Julia Fabris McBride

    Bridging Factions While Leading without Authority with Julia Fabris McBride

    On this episode of the On the Balcony podcast, Michael is joined by Julia Fabris McBride today to discuss the eighth chapter of Ron Heifetz’s book, Leadership Without Easy Answers.  Today the pair reckon with the idea of leadership as it functions without authority.  McBride is an actor, author, and President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC). In her work with KLC, McBride strives daily to foster civic leadership and create stronger and healthier Kansan communities.  In doing so, she must engage with different factions, their values, and opinions.  It can be hard fulfilling an authority role, especially when those you lead have differing versions of success.  
    But as McBride says, progress happens when we embrace diverse opinions, understand one another, and come to decisions for the common good.  It’s also challenging when holding an authority role that confines you to an organization’s code of conduct and job description.  Many people, though, go beyond those informal expectations and duties and do what they aren’t authorized to do.  Take some of history’s greatest changemakers for example:  Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, and Martin Luther King acted without authority, asking the provocative questions, and influencing society to think differently.  They did, but only because these trail blazers had the courage to make waves in domains where they weren’t always welcome. Thanks to their ability to practice leadership without authority, we all benefit greatly from the  progress they inspired.
    The Finer Details of This Episode: 
    The difference between self and role Working across factions The “risk” in practicing leadership without authorityWorking across factions in rural communities in Kansa The value of diverse perspectives Having the courage to failLeadership case examples around abortion and LGBTQ rights
    “What I loved about this framework, from the very beginning, was the idea that there's a distinction between role and self.”
    ‘The Kansas Leadership Center's mission is to foster civic leadership for healthier, stronger, more prosperous Kansas communities. And our vision is a civic culture in Kansas and beyond that is healthy and prosperous.”
    “In fact, many people daily go beyond both their job description and the informal expectations they carry within their organization, and do what they are not authorized to do.”
    “He's just talked about how leadership without authority has been the domain of women for a long time. And he's starting to get into examples of people like Rachel Carson and Gandhi and Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King, who exercised leadership beyond the scope of their authority.”
    “Even if you're the board chair of a nonprofit, you're having to deal with governance issues and nominating the next slate of officers. But if you're, you know, if you really don't have any authority, you can ask the dumb question or the provocative question.”
    “Progress [happens] when we understand each other…Progress is a civic culture that's more able to make decisions for the common good.”
    “I encourage people to speak their mind, to ask hard questions, to stretch beyond their comfort zones. We need people who have the courage to say this is what I care about.”
    On the Balcony on Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast
    Leadership Without Easy Answers on Amazon:...

    • 41 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
12 Ratings

12 Ratings

TheArtKitten ,


Great convos on adaptive leadership.

Mike Trugman ,

Brave, Sincere, and Thoughtful

This podcast, hosted by Michael, has a lot of heart and is a beautiful breakdown of Adaptive Leadership. I particularly appreciate Michael’s willingness, as a host, to be coached and bring very personal challenges onto the podcast.

I also appreciate his ability to massage in insights by asking questions multiple times and letting the insight sink in with repetitions. I learn a lot with each listen and aspire to this in my own life. Thank you, Michael and guests, for your leadership in this program.

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