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How to Lead More Effectively by Improvising

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As Laura Montgomery states in her article, 7 Improvisation Principles for Becoming a Better Leader, nothing is more inevitable than ambiguity, risk, urgency, and public scrutiny, especially in the world of business.(1) The challenge is these things often lead to anxiety, negativity, and fear, which can ultimately sabotage your success as a leader.

As leaders, one of the things that are required of us is the necessity to lead through change. And that requires us to improvise, adapt, and overcome on a regular basis as the circumstances and needs of the organization change around us.

When we think of the term improvisation, we often think about jazz musicians, comedians, or actors. But it’s also relevant for those in leadership. Frank Barrett, a jazz musician and management scholar with a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior believes that business is sometimes a mess, just like life on the jazz stage.

According to Barrett, leaders find themselves in situations they didn’t choose. Moreover, there are often countless options for moving forward, but the answer isn’t always clear. And the only way to succeed, “is through improvisation and innovation, rooted in a positive, unrestrained mindset.”(1)

With this in mind, when it comes to improvisational leadership, you cannot underestimate the vital role self-awareness plays. Improvising is a learned skill, and to do it effectively, you must learn to be comfortable with who you are, be bold, and willing to challenge your traditional ways of thinking.(2)

I think this is one of the things that makes some organizations great. Not only do they think outside the box, but they also encourage it in those they work with.

So, for the remainder of this post, I want to share seven things with you that Barrett identified that help those who lead teams facilitate success.(1)

  1. Recognize that we all have routines. Unfortunately, this can cause us to keep doing things that aren’t working. As leaders, we must learn to become suspicious of our patterns and be fully present in the moment.
  2. Be careful that we aren’t only focused on solving problems. When we do, we run the risk of limiting our vision and ignoring much of the positive potential that’s right in front of us.
  3. In fast-paced environments, it’s not always possible to learn before executing. We must learn while executing, as difficult as that may be at times.
  4. Be careful of too much structure. According to Barrett, structure kills innovation.
  5. Be willing to learn from those who have more experience than us. Intentional time spent with others often leads to additional insight and inspiration that can guide the growth of ourselves and those on our team.
  6. Don’t be afraid to give others the spotlight. There is great humility in taking a step back to let the giftedness in others shine through.
  7. Don’t get complacent in your role. Don’t allow others to become complacent in theirs either. Encourage others to step outside of their comfort zones, to provoke a vulnerability that ultimately inspires learning.

Just like the members of a jazz ensemble, every team member has a part to play – a role they are responsible for executing. If you can make each team member feel important by recognizing the unique contribution they bring to the music your team plays inside your organization, you will be all-the-more equipped to lead the way through change with success!

Discussion:

Of the seven identified above that help leaders facilitate success with their teams, which one resonated with you the most and why? I look forward to reading your leadership insights and interacting with you!


Nathan R Mitchell is America’s Leading Empowerment Coach. In 2010, in an effort to fulfill his purpose of empowering leaders to reach their potential, he founded the leadership development company, Clutch Consulting. Nathan is also a Certified Speaker, Trainer, and Coach with The John Maxwell Team. Originally from Springfield Missouri, he earned his B.S. Degree in Management and an MBA from Missouri State University. He lives near Tulsa Oklahoma with his wife and children.

Sources:

  1. Montgomery, Laura. “7 Improvisation Principles For Becoming a Better Leader.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, execed.economist.com/blog/career-hacks/7-improvisation-principles-becoming-better-leader.
  2. Daskal, Lolly. “8 Ways Improvisation Can Make You Into a Better Leader – Lolly Daskal | Leadership.” Lolly Daskal, 16 June 2018, www.lollydaskal.com/leadership/8-ways-improvisation-can-make-you-into-a-better-leader/.
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