How to improve your leadership skills by doing more improv

by | Aug 23, 2016 | Blog | 1 comment

theatre marquisWhen leaders I’m coaching lament that they’re having trouble getting stuff done, I take them back to the basics.

We examine their will (motivation), their skill (ability) and their ability to get over the hill (overcome any real or perceived barriers in their organization or personal environment).

Generally, they’re trying to do something that want and can do – which means they’ve got the will and skill.

However, they feel like they’re facing either a hill or even a mountain that’s hard to scale – an uncooperative peer, limited resources, an overwhelming workload, etc. We then figure out how to traverse a path that can get them past the barrier.

During the examination though, we sometimes discover they’re climbing the wrong hill.

These leaders should be delegating their staff members to do certain tasks and supporting them, rather than taking the tasks on themselves. Or if the actions don’t match their priorities, they need to stop doing them.

The challenge is they often still enjoy using skills that they’ve outgrown.  They’ve not yet come to grips that they need to apply different skills to fit their advancing role in the organization. Or, they’ve not yet fully embraced the changes of our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world and the new skills they need to deploy.

To reach their goals, they need to stretch and use different skills, some new, and conquer new hills. This often means giving up control and the safety of what’s worked for them in the past. Now they need to be more present and adaptable in how they lead and act.

In other words, they’ve got to stop following scripts, which can become outdated before they even use them. Instead, leaders need to improvise more.  

Improvising is not just the purview of improvisational theater actors; improv is the way leaders must perform in our connection economy in this cognitive age.

Unlike other actors, improv performers prepare for their work in a very different manner, which organizational leaders also can adopt. Rather than memorize scripts, improv performers exercise their body and mind. As they practice, they train themselves to be more attentive to their surroundings.

David Alger, who’s taught, performed and directed improv over the years around the United States and in Japan recently wrote an email message about the top things good improvisers do.

Here’s a list of the seven things that are most applicable to organizational leaders too. His comments are in bold. My observations are in italic.

Good improvisers on the stage and in organizations do the following:

1. They listen deeply. They listen to the words and the silence. Especially to actions. They ask questions as well as listen and observe. They reflect on what they hear and see and then they act.

2. They learn to identify and let go of negative stuff. They don’t give up after an off show or practice. They know what their limiting beliefs are and they know how to avoid letting those beliefs get in their way. They set a positive tone and example for others.

3. They respond with energy and make offers that require a response. This means acknowledging others and answering with “yes, and….” in order not to shut individuals down.

4. They show their emotions and feelings onstage. They learn to tap into their passion. They recognize that they need to connect with others on an emotional level. It’s not enough to share facts and other data. Leaders need to tell stories that capture people’s attention and get them to think differently.

5. They focus on the team and the other players. They are team players. They realize they don’t have all the answers. However, by asking good questions, involving others and helping create a compelling experience, they encourage others to help them develop a good solution.  And when they leverage others and get better results, they channel Tom Sawyer. (See Channel Tom for change.)

6. They focus on playing in the present. They play and stay mindful and leave analyzing for after the show. They challenge their assumptions and encourage others to do so too. And when others are involved, the leaders don’t second guess them. They respect and trust them to help.

7. They make mistakes. Lots of mistakes and then they learn. They iterate, analyze the outcomes, look at data, revise, and continue the process.

Good improvisers don’t expect instructions. Instead, they take the initiative, showing good judgment and agility as they respond to the latest situation.

By staying open to new ideas, new relationships and new ways of working, improvisational leaders do more than manage or lead change. Leaders  make positive change.

Are you ready to dump your scripts in favor of improv to improve your leadership skills?

1 Comment

  1. Louise Fitzgerald

    Another excellent post

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