Leadership Improv Challenge - A Shadow Play Exercise

I am here to offer a challenge. Try this practice for a day or just an hour, even just in a single specific situation and see what emerges.

Leadership Improv can support you in experiencing greater collaborative, creative magic as well as enhance psychological safety with those you lead.

Leadership Improv allows us to be fully available to the magic of the moment. It’s about radical trust and acceptance and being all-in to what is (rather than to our idealized version of what we think should be).

So, are you in? Are you up for the experiment?

Here’s how it works. 

Borrowing from the world of improvisational theater, the “rules” can be summed up as “yes! - and.” It’s about fully trusting what you receive from other (or the world or the moment) and receiving and accepting it whole-heartedly, with a big, enthusiastic “YES!” Then, adding your contribution or response to it (“and”). It’s like engaging in a whole-hearted dialogue with whoever is in front of you (or the Universe).

Keep in mind: This “yes” is NOT about agreeing to anything, it’s about acceptance of. For example, if a direct report asks for a salary increase, you do not need to say “yes” to the increase, it’s a “yes” to the circumstances, a whole-heartedly accepting that they asked and other circumstances surrounding the situation.

So, once again, the practice is to give a wholehearted, receptive “YES!” and then add your wholehearted “something new.”

This practice of Improv is just between you and you. No one else needs to know you’re doing this.

Try it in any leadership role you have, with your work team, your children, within yourself… or in any relationship or situation (particularly one you feel challenged, stuck, or blocked in) and see what happens. Does it shift things for you? Does it shift things for others?

Here a “step by step” version of this practice:

  1. Choose a leadership area to focus on (for example, a particular meeting, or team, or difficult situation or relationship) or pick a specified time frame in which to practice. Write it down.
  2. When the time arises, practice “Yes, and….” That is, enthusiastically accept whatever is presented to you, and then add something new.
  3. After your Improv (or at the end of the day), reflect and write about the value you’ve experienced. What was the value you experienced? What did you learn? If the practice was useful for you, consider trying it again. Consider increasing the duration for which you undertake this practice until your full workday (or life, even) becomes an energizing, creative Improv experience.

Note: While we’re focusing on leadership here, of course you can practice Improv in any areas of your life (relationships, home life, creative projects, or even with the Universe). An enthusiastic, “Yes, and” is a powerful and co-creative way to live.