Leadership Lessons From Improv

Girl singing a song with notes in her hand
Theresa Witham Photo
Managing Editor/Publisher

2 minutes

First, make your colleagues look good.

We humans don’t make decisions based solely on data; we make them based on emotion, backed with available data. If you want to impact an audience—to influence, affect, inspire them to action—you must tap into emotion. The best way to do that is through stories.
Dan Klein, a lecturer of management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, as well as a lecturer in the theater department, where he teaches improvisation, creativity and storytelling, will lead Execu/Blend™ attendees in a session called “StoryCraft."
We process information in the world by picking out relevant details and creating stories that link those details together. There are teachable techniques that will boost your natural storytelling skills; Klein’s workshop will identify those techniques, and gives you plenty of safe opportunities to practice, learn and grow.

Improvisation is an important tool in storytelling. And it can be useful in classrooms and at work. Klein spoke about improvisation on Stanford Radio last year and these quotes struck me as especially relevant in the corporate world.

“You really need to be paying attention and notice what your partners are doing or saying and listen with your whole body in a way that lets you be present. We stop listening when we’re planning our own thing or … judging what we had just said or done.”

“Improvisation says we all are on a path. We’re all growing and getting better. We embrace making mistakes. We celebrate failure.”

“If we could change our response to mistakes, change our attitude and approach to when we fail, then we’re able to take on so many more things. We can do it more cheerfully, more pleasurably and also achieve much greater success in the end.”

“The only rule is to make your partner look good. When you realize that anything that [you] say or do will be celebrated and accepted and built on by [your] colleagues, then more things emerge.”

Theresa Witham is CUES’ managing editor/publisher.

Listen the radio show.

Watch Klein present about improvisation at a FunnyBiz Conference in 2015.

Learn from Dan in person at Execu/Blend, April 29-May 2, in Santa Rosa, Calif.

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