by Craig Rapp, speaker and consultant, craigrapp.com
In case you hadn’t noticed, improv is having “a moment.” This includes Beyond Second City in Chicago, Whose Line Is it Anyway? and Saturday Night Live. Also, you can find improv clubs in every major city across the country. And most clubs offer training programs for the general public. I know because I graduated from the Second City program in Chicago. What you may not know is how improv can enhance your leadership skills in the local government management profession. Here are four things leaders can learn from improv training:
1. How to focus and be present in the moment.
Think about it. On most days, we are overwhelmed with decisions, information, and people competing for our attention. We multitask or jump quickly from one thing to another in a struggle to keep up. In improv, your only job is to be fully present and respond to what’s said to you on stage. If you’re multitasking or distracted, you can’t do your job. Through improv, you learn the lesson of hyperfocus, which is an increasingly valuable and rare experience in the modern world. People you lead crave your undivided attention and more importantly, a sign of authentic interest. How many times a day are you distracted or checking your phone when talking to someone? Or forgetting something because you lacked focus and attention?
2. How to be a better listener.
Along with being hyperfocused, an improviser must be an active listener. If you’re focused on the other person but thinking about what you’re going to say next, you can’t do your job. Things move fast, and since your job is to react to what you’re given by another performer, you need to know exactly what they said. How many of us are preparing a rebuttal in our head instead of listening to what someone else is saying in an important meeting? Did that help you understand their position?
3. How to collaborate effectively.
The first rule of improv is to say "yes, and" and this means listening to what someone else says and building upon it. In organizations, there’s a lot of "no" and "but." Meetings can be competitive and parochial, with people eager to protect turf and promote their own ideas. Using the "yes, and" technique, someone makes a statement such as "I want to buy a car." The next person may add "Yes, and it will have leather seats." The next person may add "Yes, and it will be red." As silly as this sequence may sound in a senior team setting, the idea is to get people to collaborate and understand that any idea that’s brought to the table can be accepted, added upon, and made better. Have you or your team shut down someone who offered an idea by saying “no, we’ve tried that already” or “yes, we know about that, but you just don’t understand the bigger picture here”?
4. How to think and speak on your feet.
As mentioned, your only job as an improviser is to be present in the moment and respond to what’s offered. Contrary to popular belief, your job is not to be funny. Funny happens but only as a result of doing your job. And you must react to exactly what’s said—no matter how strange it may seem. This realization can freak out even the most confident person. Regular practice, however, results in a remarkable ability to think and speak on your feet—an essential skill for leaders. How many times have you been in a meeting or gathering where someone asked you to stand up and spontaneously address the group regarding a project or give a toast?
Craig Rapp is a speaker, facilitator, and consultant who is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations gain clarity on their purpose, focus on what matters, and achieve the results they desire. Learn how Craig has been inspiring local government audiences and achieving results for the past 15 years.
Five Critical Competencies for Public Administration Leadership. This 2017 article looks at such key competencies as analytic competencies and organizational competencies needed for successful public administration leadership.
Nine Leadership Strategies for Continuous Learning in Local Government. This 2016 blog post looks at how leaders can promote continuous learning within their organization.
Leadership Skills Managers Should Have: The Value of Storytelling. A 2017 blog post that looks at how storytelling is a skill that local government managers can use to engage with their communities.