Why improv comedy works for leadership

This is a guest blog post by Taren Sterry, President of Taren Sterry Coaching

What do you do when the sourpuss in the meeting is bringing the energy down? How do you handle meetings when two sides are divided? How do you keep your staff energized, creative and motivated to work as a team?

Improv is the art of creative collaboration. It’s about saying yes. It’s about trusting the person in front of you. It’s about learning to land AFTER you’ve taken the leap. (Hint: you always do.)

Step into any improv comedy show and you’ll see something totally new, unrehearsed and magical. Improv is like life, if we want it to be.

The first rule of improv is “yes, and.”

You offer something to me, I agree, and then I give something back.

Improviser: “Jane, I’d like to promote you to Senior Vice President.”

Other improviser: “Oh, Harold, yes! I’ve always wanted to be a leader, to inspire a team, to sack someone!”

The second rule is “make statements.”

Improvisor: “Well, Jane, That’s fantastic. Let’s start with Jerry. He’s been feeling a bit down.”

Other improviser: “Great, I’ll sack him now.”

Improviser: “Jane, I meant inspire him, you know. Because he’s been a bit depressed since the accident.”

Other improviser: “Yes, the infamous Copy Machine Incident. So tragic.”

You offer something to me rather than ask me a question. Improv is about creating, not questioning.

The third rule is there are no mistakes

Everything that happens is incorporated into the show and used to discover the soul of improv: TRUTH. The truth of the scene above is that Jane desires power. It’ll be fun to see what she does with it and find out what happened to Jerry at the copy machine. We also follow other rules as well: be positive, have emotional reactions, etc.

I’ve seen improv shows that, when each player followed the rules, the result unreal, transformative and better than most scripted plays. I’ve also seen improv shows where the actors did not apply these rules. The result was painful to sit through.

The same applies to those who do and do not follow the rules of improv in life. For those who have dared to take an improv class and experienced the joy of creative collaboration, the smart ones apply it not just in a second class or at the theater, they start to live it every day.

Improv works in relationships (improv rule #24: treat your partner like a genius), conflict management (improv rule #16 don’t argue), team buillding (#1 yes, and), leadership (#9 limitless possibilities) and dating (#5 make your partner look good).

The hardest part of your first dip into improv is showing up for the first class (improv rule #7 follow the fear), but once you get there and start to follow the rules you won’t believe what can happen. (Hint: ANYTHING.)

I’m thrilled to be running improv nights for social entrepreneurs with SheSays and The Social Change Agency next week.

Taren Sterry is President of Taren Sterry Coaching which offers one-on-one presentation coaching, public speaking classes and team building workshops to develop stellar presenters and high-performance teams.

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