Why Every Leader Should Take an Improv Class

Leadership ImprovI honestly believe that an improvisation class should be mandatory for all aspiring leaders. Not for the performance aspect, but for the philosophical and experiential foundation it would provide. No matter how much you plan or prepare, life is improvisation. You can’t predict with 100% accuracy what the world will throw at you.

Thankfully, humans are outfitted with everything they need to thrive in an unpredictable world. That’s where improv comes in. There are certain rules that, if followed, allow you to take what ever life tosses your way and confidently create something authentic and compelling out of it. Here are a few of those rules and how they apply to leadership:

1. Trust. Don’t think; just do. There’s a wealth of creativity in every one of us. Improv helps you trust that creativity by stripping away the self-editing layers that cover us all. This requires large doses of trust and courage. As leaders it’s no different; we need to trust what’s inside us – and have the courage to offer it to our followers. This is the heart of authentic leadership.

2. Make others look good. When a cast of individuals performs selfishly, obsessing over their own personal performances, it stifles the work of the ensemble. But when each actor commits to helping the others do their best, the performance leaps off the stage with life and wit and humor. Your natural inclination is to make yourself look good. As a leader the best way to make yourself look good is to focus on making others (your boss, your peers, your followers) look good.

3. Don’t go for the joke. The laughter caused by the easy joke – the expected joke – never compares to the laughter that results from an organic joke – the one that just pops out. Good improvisers are open to what might happen. As leaders we need to be willing to let go of our “good ideas” and be open to what surfaces in our organization. Create a climate that encourages and rewards creativity – then trust it!

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Go take a class; see for yourself. Better yet, take your whole team!

Have you ever taken an improv class? How did you benefit from it?

17 thoughts on “Why Every Leader Should Take an Improv Class”

  1. great post Geoff! I took an improv class in college & it was a great experience. I’d love to do it again. One of my preaching professors really encourages this for aspiring preachers as well to feel comfortable in their own skin & know how to engage well with an audience.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jess! I think you’re right on. We use improv exercises in all our presentation workshops at Graceworks – it’s one of the most effective ways to get people feeling comfortable, confident and passionate standing up in front of others.

      And it’s a great tool for writers too!

  2. “Dance Improv: Bodies in Contact” was one of my favorite classes of my college career. It was crazy and demanding and wonderful. Although there were no words involved, the lessons were still the same. One of the things I remember most is that the minute I tried to make something happen, rather than follow what was going on in the group, I stalled immediately and often found myself on the edges feeling awkward and completely disconnected from what was happening. It was an amazing experience to let go of your own ideas of what things should be like and get swept up into the movement – and to move as one.

    1. Brilliant, Sarah. It takes tremendous courage and humility to let go of your preconceived ideas and trust that there’s something better out there. Thanks for the story!

  3. Read this post for the first time…YES! AND! :)
    improv is awesome! I tell everyone I know to take a class, get out of your comfort zone, learn the beauty of working as a team, and being open to whatever is thrown your way.
    Improv has so many life lessons, more than what we see in the mainstream of TV shows like “Who’s Line…” Unfortunately most are afraid of it because they “are not funny.” Being funny is the last worry in an improv class, just as you said above Geoff : Good improvisers are open to what might happen.
    As a person who was once terrified of improv, I now can’t get enough of it & can’t recommend classes enough.

  4. To build on Megan’s post…

    The big thing is to accept what’s come before and build on it. (That’s the “YES! AND!” part of her post: Agree, and move forward.)

    Don’t try to deny others, don’t try to backtrack, don’t flatline. Clarify, and then heighten (raise the stakes).

    Ask yourself, “If this is true, what ELSE is also true?” and respond to that.

    All of this is easy to talk about, super-easy to spot in others when they’re NOT doing this (i.e., they’re “blocking”)… But a constant challenge to do yourself.

    1. Great adds & way to “yes, and” megan!

      Though it does get easier over time, this is definitely a skill that you never “arrive” at. I know I’m still working on it!

      Thanks for sharing.

  5. Geoff – great connections here! having taught improvisation for over 25 years, and how an almost equal amount of time working with business leaders and teams, the principles are absolutely on point!

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