5 Key Leadership Skills That You Can Develop with Laughter

Initiation, Team-building, Understanding, Innovation, and Humor

Leadership takes courage, grit, and a sense of humor in tough times. As a performer of improvisational comedy, I regularly practice building all three of these things both on stage and in the rehearsal room. The basic lessons i have learned in improv have helped me be a better leader. This got me thinking about how the lessons i teach to my improv students can help people become stronger leaders themselves. Here are the top 5 leadership skills that I believe improv is great at developing!

1. Initiate and create something. Great leaders take action and are always creating. They have the courage to take responsibility, embrace mistakes, and adapt to change.

“Leadership requires willingly staring into the unknown and not freezing. It does not mean fear is eliminated; it means learning to name it, engage it, and ride its energy path to unlocking personal and organizational power. Ultimately, the unknown contains all untapped potential. This is the real power of the unknown… unlimited growth.” – Eric Kaufman

How does improv help?
Improv only works well when you take risks, make strong choices, push yourself beyond your comfort zones, and say YES to the unknown. Improv cultivates courage. It helps you step out of your comfort zone. To improvise without risk is oxymoronic – it’s not possible. You will be immersed quickly into games and as a group we will take risks and learn together. Your comfort zone will begin to grow larger and you will have more courage to push it further when needed. In improv, we take a risk and commit to our choices because if we don’t believe in our ideas, whey should our audience?

2. Build a strong team based on trust. Great leaders must have the ability to build effective teams, establish team trust, and collaborate with others.

“Place common interest first. In setting strategy, communicating vision, and reaching decisions, common purpose comes first, personal self-interest last.” – Michael Useem

“Organizations come into being primarily because groups of aligned people – teams – have the ability to accomplish exponentially greater outcomes than the work output of individuals. Teaming and team building are a pervasive focus of any leader…. A high-performing team operates well because trust is present and each member feels at liberty to collaborate and cooperate with their team members.” – Eric Kaufmann

How does improv help?
Improv is spur of the moment collaborative creation. Improv teaches you to support each other’s ideas, trust in your partner, and strive to make others look good. Improv teaches you to think – ‘its not mine, It’s OURS.’

3. Seek understanding through active listening. Great leaders apply effective listening skills. They actively listen with an open mind and ensure that they reach mutual understanding. They are attuned to what is being communicated and how it is being communicated.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” – Peter Drucker

How does improv help?
Improv is only successful when the players are actively listening to one another and paying attention to how it is being said. We must rely on our ability to be present and in the moment and react to what is happening around us, RIGHT NOW. We let go of our agendas and focus on what is being communicated to us moment to moment. We pay attention to the words and the body language. When we don’t listen to and understand each other fully, we cannot move forward and accomplish our goals.

4. Leverage the power of collaborative decision-making for innovation. Great leaders build off other’s strengths. They recognize and leverage the power of divergent strengths for problem solving and innovation.

“See innovation – that is, ‘change that creates a new dimension of performance’ – as the responsibility of everyone in the enterprise and not just the R&D staff.” – Peter Drucker

“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson

How does improv help?
The only star in improv is the ensemble. The golden rule of improvisation: We must agree to support each other’s ideas. Break the “no, but” habit and see how much more engaged and energized people are when you say “yes, and!” Improv teaches us that the differences we all bring to the table open up new opportunities to create infinite possibilities. Every great scene in improv is created collectively, beyond what one could have created alone. When we say “yes!” and then add something we are more innovative and more successful. Trust that others can also say “yes” and add something of great value.

5. Laugh whenever you can. This may not be one of the “top 10” leadership principles taught in leadership forums, but we believe it makes all the others much more effective and fun! Work is stressful and humor is an excellent coping mechanism. A sense of humor is also a great attraction for others and helps a group of people bond together. We can’t always be laughing but we can certainly be happier people. Whether or not you think you are funny, improv develops a sense of humor in anyone while providing a respite from the stress of daily life. All it takes is “letting go” and laughing with others to live a happier life.

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” ― Elbert Hubbard

“I think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly.” ― Steven Wright

Do you want to cultivate courage and strengthen your leadership skills? Enroll in a Finest City Introduction to Improvisation class. Want to create a high level of trust and innovation amongst your team? Hire us to bring the power of improvisation to your office. Contact us at 619-306-6047 or at info@finestcityimprov.com to get started.

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