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Matt Matheson

Improvisational Leadership – 5 traits that can make all the difference

Funny business

I have a passion for blending the thinkings and practises of improvisors with business.

Applied correctly, these combine to form a powerful, inclusive leadership style. And this thinking isn’t brand new, it’s just finally becoming a bit more mainstream, and perhaps under different guises.

There’s even an international conference dedicated to it I’ll be attending in Berlin next week.

Here are 5 take outs that I believe resonate with success in business and, in mine at least, personal life.

1. Listen

This might seem obvious, but how many times have you sat in a meeting and realised that what you have said has gone unheard? This is unproductive for those around us, and disheartening for those speaking.

An improviser is trained to listen intently on stage, to pick up names, context, needs, wants, sub text and any other critical nugget that might be needed to help the group achieve the purpose of the piece.

With true listening, understanding and reason comes progress and solutions.

2. Commit

Initiatives die when ideas early if they aren’t committed to – especially by the source of that idea.

This is the same for big ideas as well as simple tasks at hand. An improvisor knows that to satisfy their team mates and their audience, they have to commit to the character, the scene, the idea and the environment they have created. In doing so, everyone can trust that person and will join you.

Why get behind someone who’s heart isn’t in it?

3. Make bold choices

Improvisors are trained to make bold choices on stage. This gives the team something meaty to work with and is much more satisfying for the audience. Why have a conversation in a post office about work when you can fly to mars and discover the secret ingredient that could save mankind? I know what show I would like to see.

The same is to be said of many businesses and organisations. You have to think big to make it big. Have a clear, bold purpose, get clarity around what this means and go for it.

If you have the right team behind you who are aligned to your purpose, you’ll achieve it.

4. Make your scene partner look good

As part of a troupe you a trained to ensure that when working together, you are making your scene partner look good.

Sure, some performances stand out because one person nailed the show, but if that same person nails every show, people start thinking they are a one trick pony who is squashing the space and stopping the team from developing their own style. Soon, it will be become boring and the excitement will die away – for the audience and the team.

I see our colleagues, and to a certain extent our clients, as our improv troupe. We need to work in a way that constantly supports those around us, helping us to be the best we can be and removing any barriers that will stop this.

Put simply, being selfish doesn’t work.

5. Leadership, followership & auxiliary

Let me ask you a question. Do you know who the natural leaders are around you? And do you think it’s right to show leadership at all times? In improv we argue that it’s not and it’s the same in organisations.

Some people are natural leaders and some people are natural followers. Those that are truly skilled are those that know when to lead and when to follow. We call those people ‘auxiliary’ players and they are the crem de la crem of improvisors – the people you always want to perform with. They know exactly what to do, in what situation, to get the best out of it.

This ability to know what position to take is the key to real leadership – imagine how different organisations could be if the leaders were able to jump back and forward in this role to best achieve the needs of the ‘piece’ – allowing others to step forward and deliver when it’s needed.

Curtain call

These are just 5 of many principles that could have a profound impact on the way organisations and people work – both internally and with their audiences.

I believe that Improv has an ever growing place within businesses, helping them react, grow, innovate and thrive in this changing world.

Old style dictatorial leadership will not work in an evermore connected, open age. It’s the selfish boy trying to steal the lime light on stage from his team mates.

Eventually his team mates will get fed up of this and push him out, allowing for a new, group mind to emerge.

One that is supportive, facilitative and works to a common goal together. This is impov leadership. And there’s loads more to come.

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One Comment

  1. sally

    4 and 5 sadly missing in so many organisations, true teamwork.

    Posted 26th September 2013 at 6:45 pm | Permalink