Improv Leadership

I’m standing in a circle with 12 other strangers. We’re instructed to come up with an adjective that describes us that starts with the same letter as our first name, and a body motion to go with it. A girl called herself Sweaty Stevie and used her hand to fan herself. For me, I decided to go with ‘Jolly’ Johnny and put both hands on my belly as if I just had the jolliest of laughs. We did this for everyone and repeated the entire chorus each time. At this point I finally understood the power of remembering a name by assigning some unique, crazy alliteration to that person.

That brings me to why I even signed up for this crazy experience. As a leader in an organization, I obviously have to be comfortable speaking to large audiences and it would even be better if I was actually charismatic! So, I came here in search of that after hearing about executives doing team building using comedy improv. The benefits listed include a more positive environment, more inclusive and accepting of mistakes, and just more ‘going with the flow.’ The instructors brings about these gradual changes by a series of games where mistakes receive clapping and cheers, and only positivity like ‘Yes!’ and head nods are acceptable.

In just one night, this improv class taught me something new and better than what I’ve been doing at work for the past few years. My organization has a core value called “yes, if,” which means instead of just saying ‘no’ to our customers, we need to frame our responses in “yes you can, if you do this.” This has allowed by organization to slowly turn the cultural ship towards a more customer friendly attitude. Yet, in this improv class, they taught us to say “yes, and.” Think about it — no longer is it a conditional statement to our customers for a yes, it would now be a yes and something more. To me, in the real world, this meant my mindset has to shift to be even more inclusive. That I would be right there with my customers helping them achieve our goal. That’s what “yes, and” means to me.

Finally, the night ended with a series of improv battles on stage. It required a series of quick thinking, rapid fire, off the cuff answers. And as you can see in the picture above (I’m on the far right), I’m either thinking hard for a response to avoid elimination or still stuck on my epiphany of “yes, and.”

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