Improv Leadership

I’m standing in a circle with 12 other strangers. We’re instructed to come up with an adjective that describes us that starts with the same letter as our first name, and a body motion to go with it. A girl called herself Sweaty Stevie and used her hand to fan herself. For me, I decided to go with ‘Jolly’ Johnny and put both hands on my belly as if I just had the jolliest of laughs. We did this for everyone and repeated the entire chorus each time. At this point I finally understood the power of remembering a name by assigning some unique, crazy alliteration to that person.

That brings me to why I even signed up for this crazy experience. As a leader in an organization, I obviously have to be comfortable speaking to large audiences and it would even be better if I was actually charismatic! So, I came here in search of that after hearing about executives doing team building using comedy improv. The benefits listed include a more positive environment, more inclusive and accepting of mistakes, and just more ‘going with the flow.’ The instructors brings about these gradual changes by a series of games where mistakes receive clapping and cheers, and only positivity like ‘Yes!’ and head nods are acceptable.

In just one night, this improv class taught me something new and better than what I’ve been doing at work for the past few years. My organization has a core value called “yes, if,” which means instead of just saying ‘no’ to our customers, we need to frame our responses in “yes you can, if you do this.” This has allowed by organization to slowly turn the cultural ship towards a more customer friendly attitude. Yet, in this improv class, they taught us to say “yes, and.” Think about it — no longer is it a conditional statement to our customers for a yes, it would now be a yes and something more. To me, in the real world, this meant my mindset has to shift to be even more inclusive. That I would be right there with my customers helping them achieve our goal. That’s what “yes, and” means to me.

Finally, the night ended with a series of improv battles on stage. It required a series of quick thinking, rapid fire, off the cuff answers. And as you can see in the picture above (I’m on the far right), I’m either thinking hard for a response to avoid elimination or still stuck on my epiphany of “yes, and.”

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Empathy in Rejection

I hung up the phone and was devastated, embarrassed, sad… yet still smiling.

A couple months ago I had applied for a sweet job that would be a promotion and allow me to move to Houston, where my sister and two nephews live. You have to understand, job promotions like this do not come around often, much less one that I’m qualified for. So I put my name in the hat (which also meant writing a 16 page essay on why I’m qualified) and wait. Then two days ago I got an email asking me when would I be available for an interview — wahoo! I had always felt it I could make it to the interview round and last the automated computer screening process, then at least my fate would be in my own hands. Yesterday I quickly setup travel arrangement to Houston, to go be in person as a show of importance. And today I got a phone call from the hiring official that it was all a mistake, that I should not have gotten an interview. Ouch.

While on the phone and getting an explanation with authentic contrition clearly apparent in her delivery, I started to feel immediately awkward for her. Here she is with the very unpleasant duty of needing to inform me that my expectations, that me notifying my sister that I was a step closer to moving closer to the family, that it was just a simple mistake. Of course I felt disappointment. How could I not? But I also felt sad for the person who had to tell me this bad news. To me, the mistake had already occurred and is now in the past. In the here and now, and going forward, I didn’t see any point in making this more awkward than it has to be. So, I made sure to let her know it was absolutely ok.

The reason why they made the mistake or how it came about actually isn’t all that important. At the end of the day, there was no going back. So what’s the point? What is left to be truly gained here? No, the real goal is to make sure I keep a positive relationship with that hiring official, which in turn doesn’t ruin any shot for a future promotional opportunity. Besides it being the nice thing to do (which is the primary driver!), there’s absolutely no strategy that calls for making the hiring official feel horrible.
My final takeaway for you is to keep smiling. Despite the adversity and unfortunate luck, keep smiling. It can and will get better. Positive affirmation will force the universe to be positive for you too.

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if the feedback is negative, it never feels good.  criticism, even if it’s true, and even if we’ve known about, it never feels good.  but maybe, it’s necessary.  maybe we to hear it from someone who cares about us so that we may catch ourselves next time.  but, it never feels good.  i wise person told me that with any feedback, just be open to it and don’t be defensive about it.  it may not be 100% accurate or true, but maybe even 5% of it is.  so, just sit back, be open, and take it.  cause i’m willing to bet, the person who’s giving us the feedback isn’t enjoying it either.  let’s make it easier for everybody cause we all care.

lots of fun to draw this week’s strip.  flipping to the more realistic style is always fun and presents new challenges.  and that last panel really portrayed what i was going for, a bit of a loving environment but still not enjoyable.

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convene the board

you get the phone call.  you rush over quick as possible.  your friend is in need.  and you’ve got the answer.

it’s perhaps one of the most important job as a friend – to offer your advice to whatever scenario your friend needs help with.  i think the fact they’re asking you for your thoughts is a great compliment.  not only do they trust you enough, but they feel safe enough to hear what you have to say.  so, don’t abuse it.  offer your heartfelt suggestion and see what happens.  of course, if it’s a friend that calls on you way too often, then well, it’s a good thing we have caller ID these days.

whew, this week’s comic took quite awhile.  trying to draw the realistic style for this week, i still don’t think it’s realistic enough.  but i am happy with the panel breakdown though.  your thoughts?

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ask yourself

there’s that phrase, “just put yourself in their shoes” and i think that’s great.  i’ve done that and it really helps to understand the other person’s perspective.  here’s another tactic i like to use, “what would <insert your role model’s name here> do?”  and before you ask, no, i never really ask what would Batman do!  but in the work place and when dealing with various types of people, i do find Picard’s leadership style quite useful.  but as for a relationship, i’m not sure who’s a good role model to have.  in all honestly, your best bet might be, “if she fell in love with me, then what would the ideal version of myself do?”

before you criticize, i swear i drew a decent looking Picard before!  for this strip, i did very rough outlines in pencil and then went straight to inking.  with Picard, that was straigh to ink with a 0.1 Copic multiliner!

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