As 2020 is coming to a close (good riddance), I have decided it is time to start writing my next book. Instead of blogging, or writing it in a quiet place, I have decided to write it through my podcast. A new and untraditional approach to writing a book. You, my audience, will get a sneak preview of the content and can send me comments, suggestions, and ideas for the book. Kind of a crowdsourcing approach. There are two working titles to the book: Improv for the C-Suite and Leadership in Hyperdrive Powered by Improv. My first call out to you is which of the two do you like? Send me an email at email@example.com on the title you like the best.
Over the past two years, I have been doing much research on the topic of improvisational leadership. I have curated 43 articles, 23 books, and 23 YouTube videos based on improv or improv leadership characteristic references. In the book “Getting to YES AND” by Bob Kulman, he discusses that effective leaders can answer four questions about themselves – Why this? Why now? What do I have to do? What’s in it for me? Bob discusses these four questions as if he was to bring the tenets of improvisation into his firm. I will answer those four questions and frame my answers as to – why you should consider bringing improv into your organization.
Improv is where strategy & planning meet implementation. Improvisation is a communication-based technique that requires leaders to be present and, in the moment, to listen as the business depends on it, to respond honestly, put other’s thoughts and needs ahead of theirs, and adapt to the unexpected challenges and opportunities.
Improvisational communication lets the leader focus on the things they have control over and ignore the things they have no control over. This helps the leader to be able to have clarity during chaotic times. By doing so, your brain will slow down to focus on the details, the context, and subtext of the conversation to guarantee nothing is missed. The principles of improvisation are respect, trust, support, listen, focus, adapt, and maintain the Yes And mindset.
Improvisation is all about reacting and adapting to a changing landscape by accurately assessing a given situation’s needs, which allows the conversation to move forward in a positive new direction. Improvisation is about building stronger teams, being creative and innovative, collaborate with others, negotiate from a place of win-win, highly focused during times of stress, setting your ego aside for the good of the organization and others, demonstrating empathy, and being very comfortable with the uncomfortable. Improvisation strengthens the leader’s emotional intelligence and their interpersonal skills.
I am writing this book during the COVID-19 global pandemic. If there ever was a time to adopt the improviser’s mindset, it is now. Change is happening all the time – change is either imposed or designed. Leaders need to be adaptable, collaborative, creative, innovative, and embrace risk.
Embracing risk is not punitive to those who come up with the ideas; it celebrates those ideas even when they F.A.I.L – First Attempt In Learning. If you don’t allow your team to FAIL and punish them for taking a risk, it will take you longer to solve the problem because everyone is living in fear of being punished. Give you team the freedom to fail and watch them grow.
Showing vulnerability as a leader makes them relatable and human. Your leadership inspires your team to become vulnerable and requires the team to set aside their ego for the organization’s good. The improvisational philosophy is not the 1950s – 1990s leadership, “I will tell you what to do” leadership style. It is the collaborative and inclusive leadership style that focuses on the team, and not themselves.
Improvisational leadership provides phycological safety to the team. In the article titled “The Five Keys to a Successful Google team” phycological safety is defined as – the ability to speak your mind and feel safe taking risks in front of each other. Google feels “far and away” that phycological safety is most important dynamic behind a successful team
It is also the exact opposite of the traditional methods of learning and development. Sitting in a classroom being lectured to for hours upon hours does not increase retention. It increases boredom. It is just a mind mind-numbing data dump of facts, figures, and content that is uninspiring. We have lost the motivation to engage the audience to action. When you take the improviser’s mindset, we turn the content into stories, analogies, and metaphors so the audience will pay attention, which increases retention. This is the reason I wrote the book “Taking the Numb Out of Numbers.”
Change is a constant. You can either lead change, follow change, or ignore change. Leading change gives you a voice in the conversation. Following change allows you to be a witness in the conversation. Ignoring change will lead to unemployment. Which do you prefer?
What do I have to do?
Leaders need to learn to live in the moment and become engaging with their team. Improvisation helps in building and maintaining relationships while strengthening their focus. Do you have the ability to park your ego and to suspend judgment? If not, give it a try. Think of it this way – naturally cross your over your chest. Now cross them the opposite way. Uncomfortable right? Of course, it is AND if you began crossing your arms differently, at some point it will be comfortable. That is exactly what change feel like. Uncomfortable at first AND you will get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Be respectful, be trustworthy, and provide support to others. Influential leaders are better communicators because they “listen to understand,” not “listen to respond.” Empathize with your team and be more vulnerable. Embrace the principles of improvisation into your leadership style and the way you live your life. This sounds simple, and it takes work. Here is an analogy that I have used when taking on large tasks, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! Practice improvisational leadership every day and watch your team respond positively and become more productive. The best thing is that it doesn’t cost a thing other than changing your mindset to an improviser’s mindset.
What’s in it for me?
There is a lot in it for you, as the leader—more tremendous respect from your team and others in the organization. You will be the improviser/leader that everyone admires and wants to work with. I have never felt that people work for a leader, that is, a boss.
Today’s leadership demands more collaboration, less “it’s all about me” approach. You may have the authority and the power, and that is not leadership. Leadership is the POSITIVE effect you have on another person – Simon Sinek. When you adopt that mindset, you teach everyone in your organization that they are all leaders, no matter the title. Create a culture that inspires others to action, and your influence will be contagious to all. Ask for bad ideas because in the world of improv, “bad ideas are bridges to good ideas – no ideas lead to nothing.” Show that your idea is the setup, not the end solution. Involve your employees in decision-making, problem-solving, and strategy. Listen to their ideas, their issues, listen to their feelings with empathy. Increase your emotional intelligence, along with your teams. Don’t be afraid. By doing so, your turnover will reduce, engagement will increase, problem-solving with require less time, and your bottom line with grow in ways you could ever imagine.
Join me on this journey of writing my next book through the vehicle of my podcast. If you would like to be in this next book on improvisational leadership, please submit stories to me about your improvisational leadership at firstname.lastname@example.org and if I use them in the book, you will receive a free autographed copy once it is published.