Three golden leadership lessons from improvisation.

Over the past few months I’ve become addicted to improvisation – an experience that is both monumentally scary and exhilarating at the same time – after all how often are you put in a situation where you get to fail spectacularly and often – in front of an audience!

As you can tell from my profile photo, I’m a woman of a certain age who, most of the time, is promoting herself as an executive coach and trusted advisor to board members and CEOs. Yet here I am on stage, improvising roles as varied as runaway member of the mob to ageing burlesque queen (though my favourite has to be my unique interpretation of “chicken monster’)

And what has this to do with leadership you may ask?  Well quite a lot actually. Week in week out I’ve had the opportunity to practice some of the key principles of improv – it’s a bit like groundhog day – how many times can I screw this up? It’s taught me a huge amount about bouncing back and given me hundreds of ‘teachable moments’:

Here are 3 of my favourites:

Rule 1: “Yes and…” In improv this means whatever is offered, you have to accept – no matter how outlandish, crazy, bizarre and work with it. At work this means when a team member makes a suggestion  – keep an open mind, suspend judgement and listen.  It’s hard as it’s a struggle breaking the “no but” habit,  yet by using  ‘yes and’ you keep the creative juices flowing and it’s just more fun.

Rule 2: Give others the space When I started I was trying too hard. I was bringing some of the pressures from my working life to the stage – my need to be in control. I wasn’t leaving enough room for others to do their best work –in improv terms I was being the ‘driver’ and it was hard work, for everyone.

What teams most need is trust and I wasn’t trusting the others to make us all look good. So the question is,  does your team feel you trust them to do good work? Indeed do you trust yourself or are you controlling things so much that your stifling the action? Sometimes it’s just good to take your foot off the gas and enjoy the ride.

Rule 3: Be in the moment and make others look good A variation on rule 2 this is perhaps my favourite thing about improv and the lesson I most had to learn.  In improv all the pressure to be ‘significant’ fades away – it’s an ensemble piece and about having fun.  When you can let go, be willing to fail and just be truly ‘in the moment’ is when the magic happens. Others will pick up what you just ‘dropped’ and carry on -it’s part of the show!  Here  success is measured how well you support others. And the reward – you don’t have to worry about your success, the rest of the group is doing that for you!

Later this year I will be running workshops using games from improv with one of the country’s most experienced improv teachers. So if you want to have fun, communicate better and learn how to bounce back from failure sign up today!

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