Leadership at the Improv

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July 10, 2013

Recently I began taking Improv Classes through my town’s community programs. This is my 3rd class in the past year. I guess you could say I’m hooked. When I’m in class, I feel like I am 9 years old playing with my friends. Last night, I was transformed into a Hula Dancer with a lisp to and to a one-legged Russian Spy with secret information. I have finally found a place where it’s acceptable to “make things up” on the fly and be respected for being silly, creative and out of the box. So what does all this have to do with leadership? How can mastering improvisation skills help you as a leader? Improv is a useful tool for leaders on many levels. Practicing improv sharpens your communication skills. It forces you to listen closely to the other people so you can play off of each others cues. In addition, it promotes the acceptance of other people’s ideas and challenges you to work with the information they provide.

In business your ability to listen fully and be open to others ideas is critical. By accepting feedback, you encourage others to want share their ideas more freely. You may not choose to implement the ideas offered, but you openness to listening will drive communication and the sharing of information Improv stretches your creativity and encourages the development of on the spot thinking. When was the last time you had to think on your feet and respond to a question you were not expecting? Maybe it was at a team meeting, during a presentation, with a client or maybe even a conversation with your boss. Everyday we are faced with situations that require on the spot thinking. Improv exercises strengthen the “creativity” and “quick thinking” muscles. If you want to “stay in shape” you work out to stretch and get strong. The brain may not be a muscle, but it still improves with exercise. Making decisions and embracing risk is critical in leadership and management. An organization can not move forward if its leaders are afraid to make decisions. Improv requires participants to make decisions and take risks. When playing a scene, deciding whether you want to be a cowboy or a mad scientist waiting at a bus stop with a nun may not be an earth shattering decision to make, but none the less, there you are in front of your audience, forced to commit to your role. It takes courage and trust, but it’s a great exercise in commitment and decision making.

Improv is the ultimate teambuilding experience. It requires the players to communicate, cooperate and trust each other. The more you know your team mates, the easier it is to do a successful scene. One of the golden rules in improv is that you want to try to make the other person look good. It’s not all about you. Imagine if we could work with others with that goal in mind… to make others be successful! Wouldn’t that make a huge impact in team effectiveness, attitude and efficiency? So call me silly, kooky, crazy or quirky. I am convinced that Improv builds great leadership qualities. So if you are looking to sharpen you game, trying playing at Improv. I promise you won’t be disappointed. And if you’d like to improve the communication and leaderships skills of your team, consider having Goldin Leadership facilitate “Acting Up” our Improv Teambuilding program. Go to our Leadership Toolbox ( under Teambuilding Tools) to learn more.