How to Be a Better Leader According to Improv

Sometimes being a good leader also means being a good actor.

That’s not to say that an executive should put on a show, entertain his or her employees, or be inauthentic.  There are many principles of acting – and especially improv – that can be applied to leadership skills.  In fact, these principles can make a good leader even better.

Following some of the rules of improv can help leaders become better listeners, work more collaboratively with their teams, and use more flexible communication – all of which make for more effective leaders.

Always Say “Yes, and…”

As a leader, it’s your job to motivate and inspire your team.  You need your team to help you actualize your vision and a large part of your success depends on inspiring people to help you succeed.  If they aren’t motivated, the work doesn’t get done, and you could find yourself on the way towards derailment.

By saying “yes, and…” you keep conversations open and ideas flowing.  It allows everyone to contribute, adding to the discussion rather than closing it off.

“Yes, but…” is a very different statement.  It’s a denial, slamming the door to further ideas and rejecting a free-flowing conversation.  That’s no way to inspire the best in people.

Be in the Here and Now

In improv, the scene is all about the people there, on the stage at that moment.  An audience needs to understand the relationship between the people they can see.

Being a leader is very similar.  You need to focus on the goals, tasks, and team members in the present.  Don’t talk about someone who isn’t there, especially in a negative light.   Stay focused on what you can solve, who you can help, or what you can do to further your goals right now.

Listen Exquisitely Carefully

Perhaps the most important skill in improv is listening.  Not simply hearing what was said, but listening, deeply, for context and subtext.  How else will an actor be able to see what is going on in a scene – and the possibilities of where the scene could go?

Listening goes beyond words being said; it’s also paying attention to what’s not said.  Listening is reading body language, facial expressions, mood, and even understanding normal behavioral tendencies.  If one of your team members is normally cheerful and prompt but becomes withdrawn and starts missing deadlines, you should hear that message loud and clear.

Listening is about connecting with people and creating trusting relationships with your team.  It’s knowing when someone seems “off” and following up to see how you can help.  It’s about knowing when to intervene in order to help someone, before the situation is beyond saving.

All the World Is a Stage

All of life is improv.  We go about our days without a script, winging it.  Leadership is no different.  As a leader, you have to make things up as you go along.  But as a leader, you must  know how to act in order to inspire your team to make the best impact.  Sometimes, that might require a little bit of acting.

Try following the rules of improv and see if it helps you be a better listener, better communicator, and more collaborative with your team.  Making real connections and building trustworthy relationships are some of the best ways to inspire and motivate people to help you make the biggest impact.

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