Executive coaching that uses the principles of improvisation can boost your creativity. Individuals who seek executive coaching often want to increase their leadership skills, or executive presence.
If you are about to step into a leadership position, or are already leading a team or organization, learning how to use “Yes, And…” can improve communication skills, create a safe environment to share ideas and promote collaboration, in addition to building stronger teams.
The Power of “Yes, And…”
Improvisation is based on spontaneity. Yet, there is more. “Yes, And…” is used in improvisation to promote listening skills, openness and persistence. Let’s break down “Yes, And.”
YES is all about awareness, accepting, acknowledging, and the appreciation of others and their ideas.
Improvisers focus on setting a partner’s imagination free by accepting every idea that’s offered – Yes, And, keeps the story unfolding, trusting that one idea or theme will flow from another. This can make participants appear amazingly attuned. Underlying this “performance” is careful listening and encouragement. The participants trust each other to carry the story forward.
What you don’t see in the moment of performance is the effort that is devoted to developing an atmosphere where spontaneity comes naturally. The people who appear to be the most fluid and creative are often the ones who’ve trained for hours, learning to trust themselves and others in the process.
Improv relies on trust, teamwork, never denying, being in the moment, sharing the spotlight, and openness to what comes next, whatever it might be.
What does it mean in business and why does it work?
Improv works for business because to be successful, the same principles apply. Bringing improv into the corporate culture can open teams to the philosophy of embracing new ideas. Saying “yes” instead of “no” can create an atmosphere that gives everyone a voice.
“Yes, And” does not mean that every idea will be accepted or agreed to, but it allows for new ideas and information to surface. Developing a culture of heightened listening will encourage enhanced communication skills among your team.
Effective leadership may mean you step aside to let others shine. When your team feels heard, they are more likely to extend that courtesy to others. This can diminish conflict, promote exploration, and facilitate supportive work environments – all positive results that can facilitate greater flexibility for you when leading teams and delegating priorities.
“There are very few rules to improvisation, but one of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is,” [Stephen] Colbert said in his Northwestern commencement address. “And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is you’re in the scene too. So hopefully, to them, you’re the most important person, and they will serve you.”
Executive coaching that uses “Yes, And” can also help you hear other perspectives with openness. Watch how people respond when you listen and give their opinions credence. It opens up possibilities.
This exploration would not be complete without an examination of the processes of “Yes, And’ as it relates to encouraging and responding to ideas from your team. Say you’ve asked your team to come up with ideas to tackle a specific problem or strategy. The topic is less important, in this instance, than the way the responses are handled. You’ve already set the scene, so the knee-jerk “No” is off the table.
What comes next?
We’ll work with the Four A’s:
Anytime information surfaces from an employee, your company may be gaining important knowledge about an issue that has not seen the light of day before. This isn’t to say that every comment or idea will be new or life-changing. However, paying attention and making a note of employee ideas in the context of problem solving could be helpful, either in that moment, or at some point in the future.
This is where inclusion, cultural sensitivity and insights come into play. What is important to one person may seem trivial or, in some cases off target to another. Leadership can set the tone, with a response like, “That is an interesting perspective.” Or, “I don’t think I would have come up with that on my own.” Whether or not you agree with the comment, maintaining a genuine tone of acknowledgement will provide a safe atmosphere for others to contribute ideas.
The wisdom here is for a leader to validate the ideas of others, without saying that all of the ideas will be acted upon with equal weight. In business, as in life, a sorting or editing process must take place and hard choices will need to be made, but not in the midst of a session to promote creativity and spontaneity to problem solve. This is an opportunity to promote inclusiveness.
Thank your team for their ideas. Let them know that you want them to continue sharing ideas. Tell them you want to hear from each of them, especially those individuals who may not have spoken up during the meeting. Give them the option to think about the ideas already shared and ask them to add to the list in writing, as some team members may feel more comfortable with that mode of communication at this point.
“Yes, And” with the Four A’s can transform a team from individual players to a team that plays well with others.
Imagine you and your top two sales people are making a pitch to a prospective client. A great deal rides on how your team interacts when questions arise. Will one member of your team try to grab the glory, by sounding like the smartest person in the room? Or will each of you have each other’s back. That means listening closely and being prepared to offer a response that addresses the question, while supporting the points being made by the rest of your team.
What happens to “No”?
“No” is necessary, useful, and sometimes the only right answer when used judiciously. It comes after, or at the very end of a brainstorming session. If used too soon, it can squelch the idea of the person who receives the no, as well as others in the room who might now be afraid to share their ideas. Tossing an idea around to examine the possibilities is not the same as wasting time or going through the motions. Ideas need to be met with an open mind. Not all ideas will prove useful or even feasible but shutting ideas down too early may close the door on new opportunities.
Think of the typist, Bette Nesmith Graham, who invented “Mistake Out” in the late ‘50’s and offered the invention years later to IBM. They said “No” because they already had a solution – their own Correcting Selectric with an integrated lift-off correction tape. However, that solution only worked if you were the lucky owner of their typewriter. Graham persevered, changed the product name to “Liquid Paper” and in 1979 the company was sold to the Gillette Corporation for $47.5 million with royalties. As a typist, she didn’t have much of a voice, but Graham possessed experience and a great idea. She understood what was needed to improve productivity in her office. Her idea eventually made her millions.
Executive coaching that uses the principles of improv can help you create a safe space for creativity to flourish. The very exercise of brainstorming is aimed at coming up with ideas, strategies or approaches to an issue in a nonjudgmental setting. Yes, it takes a bit more time and the results may be richer for it. Suspending judgement is a great way to foster creativity and develop trust. Ridicule and shaming have no place in a “Yes, And” brainstorming session. Creating a safe place to fail, is also an element of an effective idea sharing session.
During his time at Second City, director Jeff Michalski told his students: “You have to learn to love the bomb. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing…The embracing of that, the discomfort of failing in front of an audience, leads you to penetrate through the fear that blinds you,” Colbert told GQ.
Google brings up over 850,000 references when you put leadership skills in the search. The ability to listen ranks fairly close to the top of most lists of essential leadership skills. Yet, how many of us really know how to listen?
Improv helps us hone our communication skills, and listening is an essential element, if you want to stay in the moment. How many times in a meeting have you seen people lose focus, as they get lost in formulating what they will say next, rather than listening to what is actually being said. In improv, you have to pay attention, or risk your ability to react quickly. A missed opportunity can bring a skit to an immediate halt. A missed opportunity in business can affect everything from a product launch to expansion plans.
An article in Forbes listed Fearless Agility as the number one skill needed in today’s leaders. Since an essential element of improv is reacting, fearless agility is a skill improv can help you hone.
“Yes, And” won’t work all the time, but life is an improvisation and Improv Coaching is a valuable technique to add to your leadership toolbox. Contact us today, if you’d like to learn more about how the techniques of improv can boost your executive presence and hone your leadership skills.