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.”

Continue Reading

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.

Continue Reading

jamm session 2017

Every year I do something I call ‘jamm week.’ Simply put, it’s a several days devoted to working my personal projects, such as artwork or some entrepreneurial business projects. I wake up just as early (or earlier) than normal and I work into the night. I’ve found that by having this concentrated time, it dramatically increases my productivity and output of results. In businesses and organizations, they’re usually called ‘offsides’ or ‘retreats.’ The trick here is to make it all about your personal goals and making huge gains on them.

This year I decided to focus on several business ideas, from making a podcast to opening a coffee shop to creating a newsletter. Below is the agenda and which ones I actually accomplished.

Here are a few rules and tips:

  • You must make a plan before you start – And I’m not talking the morning of Day 1. I’m talking about a month ahead of time as you start mentally preparing for your jamm week, start jotting down notes as they occur to you what you want to accomplish. As time gets closer, arrange all those thoughts into an actual agenda or schedule. This will keep you on track and not stagnated.
  • No interruptions! – This is an important time for you and you’ve taken the time to do this, so do it right. Limit the cell phone interruptions and social media checking. Use only your breaks to keep up with the news and emails. Absolutely no app games!
  • Tell people you’re doing this. – Your friends are awesome and they’ll check in with you to see how it’s going. That’ll keep you accountable to come through in what you said you’d do.
  • Go somewhere to jamm – Don’t just do it at home, unless you have a nice office and used to producing at home. Instead, go to a coffee shop, bookstore, or library to gain extra energy or inspiration from the new stimulus of a different environment.

“Ignoring the small stuff isn’t an option, but living in a state of continuous partial attention won’t cut it either.” – Cal Newport (Computer Science professor at Georgetown University and the author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World)

This year’s jamm session, for me, had better than anticipated side effects. Not only did I make significant headway, I enjoyed a “productivity high” for several days later that I carried into other parts of life. Great!

So, try it out for yourself, and if you, send me a note on how it went for you. Good luck!

Continue Reading