Being a Leader is Like Being an Improv Actor

One of the skills that all of us need to develop as we want to be and behave like a leader is to develop the skills of an improv actor. The foundational aspect of any improv actor is the ability to be fully present in the moment and respond to their stimuli. As leaders, we need to be able to do that as well.

So, if our stimuli requires us to be a coach, we need to be able to channel our inner coach. If our stimuli needs us to be a manager and give clear instruction to someone on our team, we need to be able to channel our inner manager in that moment. If our stimuli needs us to be an active listener, we need to be able to channel our ability to sit down and listen. If we are needed to be change agents, we need to be able to channel our inner change agent.

You get the point. And we need to be able to do that in a moment. So, being a leader is not simple.

If we agree with this analogy, then we also need to look at what these improv actors do to be on top of their game. Here are some things that any good improv actor does to stay on top of their game and to continuously improve:

Practice: They practice a lot when the stakes are low or negligible. We need to find out spaces where the stakes of making a mistake is low and practice our ability to channel our inner manager, listener, change agent or visionary or whatever else that we might need, on-demand.

Yes And: The fundamental rule of any improv act is for the actor to accept the reality that he has been given. And then add to it. The actor can’t go back on what has already been said or given. So, the only way is forward and onward.

No Mistakes: In improv, there are no mistakes. The “Yes And” mindset means that you can’t contradict anything that happens around you. And once we accept what has already happened, we can now focus on how to respond to that reality. Most of your time, focus and attention needs to be in responding to the situation rather than trying to find faults.

There is a time to explore what went wrong. That time is when you are alone with yourself or with your team not performing and specifically gathered to understand what happened. Even then, as a leader, you need to be able to switch roles on-demand, from being a critic to a cheer-leader or anything in-between depending on what your team needs you to be.

All your attention on your partner: In an improv act, if you are not fully present and responding to your partner or partners, you can be easily caught. So, it is when you are leading a team or an organisation. People can easily sense when you are not being present. Being a leader comes is being responsible (and accountable) to the people whom you lead. So, it is super critical to be fully present in the moment. One way to do that is by managing your breath to ground yourself in the present (you can find more information about this on this post here).

Leaving no one behind: This is because Improv is a team game. So is leading a team. A team is only as successful as all the individual members of the team are. It is our responsibility to ensure that everyone on our team has our full support for them to succeed at their role.

In conclusion, I believe that leading takes a lot of work and is an intentional sport. You can’t and should not sleep walk in a leadership role. This also shows that you don’t need a title to lead. As long as we exhibit these behaviour traits and work towards a common goal with a group of people, we are leaders.

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Author: Mukesh Gupta

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