There is one thing that separates good actors from struggling actors: How well do you listen?
In my work I get to interact with actors at all levels. A struggling actor knows their lines, and is pre-planning how they will react when they hear their scene partner say something. They are scripting (even if the play is improvised) how the story will come out, and how they will listen. There is a need to control what happens, and what the audience sees, rather than actually listening and being affected by what someone is giving you. In fact, you can actually see them trying to listen, as if listening is something to show people you are doing it. You can visually see them planning how they will respond, rather than listening and reacting.
The same is true for managers. I have worked with many managers who have a "listening face" which they use to "show" people they are listening. When asked to share what they just heard, their retention and understanding of what was said to them is appallingly low. And just like with actors, employees can see when you are not listening to them. They can see when you're merely waiting for their mouth to move so you can speak. They can see when you have disengaged because you have already solved the problem you think they have (even if you are not sure what the problem actually is, or if there even is one!) They can see when you are not present.
This skill is hard to learn, and there are a variety of methods to help you be aware of how you listen and how you can improve. After a few of my exercises, I have had participants say "This was the first time I really was able to hear what someone said..." Imagine if all your staff felt that way, like they have been heard and appreciated.
Honing this skill can affect your bottom line in multiple ways: increased engagement, improved customer satisfaction, innovative directions, happier and appreciative staff and family, etc. It's a simple skill that we often overlook in the wider scope of our work.
Find out how to increase your listening potential - email Andrew today.
Show and Tell: Leave it in Kindergarten
Show, don't tell. This concept is something you learn in theater. Show, don't tell. In other words, I don't want to hear your explanations, your reasons, or your justifications. What I want to see is you doing something.
As an audience member, I am not engaged by listening to you talk about an old lady doing tricks on roller skates. However, I would be intrigued to see the old lady on stage doing tricks on roller skates! That’s what I want.
Too often with Improv, people will talk about what they are doing: “I am going to get you a glass of water now…” “I am walking my dog now...” “I am stapling papers…” How many times have you heard someone at your office say "I am stapling papers now!" (and if you have, I would LOVE to know more content about that…)
As we do things normally in our world, we don’t talk about it. We just do it. We brush our teeth without exclaiming "I am brushing my teeth!” We drive a car without constantly saying, "I am driving now, I am still driving, look at me drive!”
The same is true for business. I sit in meetings often and hear people talk about what they plan to do. And a lot of the time, people feel like if they talked about it, then they actually DID something. But the truth is, TALK is NOT action.
So when you are confronted with people who describe what they will do, ask them "When? When will you do it?"
Don’t tell me you will do it. Show me you have done it. That is forward motion, rather than idle chatter.
I have found a classification of people in the performing arts called 'accidental administrators.' They are the people who trained to be actors, or directors, or some specific aspect of theater, and ended up being the person in charge of the organization. When I ask these people about their journey, I usually get the same response; they decided to do the things that no one else wanted to because these things had to be done.
So they became the accidental leader of an organization. They didn't plan, prepare or desire to be the person in charge. They just found themselves there because of who they are, because of the type of person they are.
Sometimes this leads to a level of Imposter Syndrome, and even malcontented staff surrounding theses individuals who say 'who put them in charge?'
The answer I tell those disgruntled workers is: You did. And they did. They chose to make the organization work, because it had to be done and no one else would do it. They saw what needed to be done, and did it.
When companies begin - the lines between job descriptions and duties are fairly fluid. Individuals need to do what must be done to make a new organization survive. As a company grows, it's needs change and everyone must adapt to the constant changes. Mark Zuckerberg was quoted as making a commitment to code everyday, which is a goal he has had to step away from as the realities of being the CEO of a large company change.
The main quality I find from these accidental leaders (and in full disclosure, I identify with this group) is that they adapt to the needs of the changing organization as time goes on. Accidental Leaders are still leaders, and they are not stuck in amber waiting for the next ice age. They listen, react in real time, and adapt to the changing situation either by training themselves, or finding the support they need to make a dream come true. They are quintessential problem solvers, who see the end result and goal and reach for the dream.
When you are hiring, how can you identify these individuals? Look for the person who has been doing work outside the scope of their training. That shows they are doing whatever they can to be successful. And test them on problem solving. The ability to adapt and change in real time is a key skill.
How can you develop these skills in the staff you already have? Provide training in the skills of improvisation. It can lead them to higher levels of listening, critical thinking and problem solving as well as leadership development.
Don't let accidental leaders believe that it is all coincidental that they are where they are. It is who they are that makes them leaders.
For more information and workshops of Leadership Development - click here for Andrew's workshops.
Many years ago I worked with a magician who taught me a lot about producing events. Together we created Haunted Houses, Parties and events as well as on-going attractions in Casinos.
There was one trick he did on a whim that always stuck with me. It was the 'coin toss'. We were at an event, and he had a wooden nickel that they have given him. He took it, showed me both sides were unmarked, flipped it in the air and shot at it with his hand as if he had a gun. When the wooden nickel hit the ground, it had a black mark on the side facing up, resembling a bullet hole.
Then it was my turn to tell him how the trick was done:
ME: "You did a slight of hand to show me the same side of the coin, and make it look like I was seeing both sides."
ME: "Then how did you know it would land with the side that had the mark facing up?"
HIM: "I didn't. That part I gambled on..."
ME: "So if it had landed with the unmarked side up, then what would you have done."
HIM: "I don't know - but it didn't happen that way. The trick worked. If it didn't, I'd have figured out something else..."
As I learned with a lot of magic tricks, there is a certain amount of bluff and confidence that it will work the way you thought it would. And there is a lot of being sure of yourself to make whatever happens look like it's what you wanted to have happen.
When I speak to people about their leadership style, I sometimes hear people say "I am not sure what I am doing, or if what I am doing is the right thing." I think we all have times of self doubt about the next action we are about to take, or the next proposal for a client, or the next initiative we are putting forth. And the truth is, it may not work. If we understand the risks involved, and agree to move forward with confidence anyway, then we will make whatever happens work. Not trying the trick because it might fail is the only real failure.
So remember the rules:
How do I do this? - JUST DO IT
Am I doing it right? - YES
See where it takes you.
Throughout the many workshops I have done for companies, I have heard the same refrain: customers complain a lot.
And I agree. In my dealings with my own customers, I know that comments are a huge issue to bear, and they seem relentless sometimes. And constant - regardless of the excellent customer service that you provide, and the quality of your goods or service.
The key that I always say is: "How do you Rumpelstiltskin that customer complaint?" That is, how do you take the straw, and turn it into gold?
It's hard to do. The first step is, can you hear what the customer is saying? What gets in the way of listening to their comment? Your ego? Your perception of them as a crazy crackpot?
In my experience, even the most crackpot complainer has something to offer, some perspective that can help me to innovate. If I can find a way to get past my own ego, I can figure out how to use their comments and learn more about my product, my customer base, and how people interact with my brand.
I was doing a CEO training session in San Francisco, and one CEO was talking about a specific customer who constantly contacts his company to complain. When I asked him what his business was, he told me it was a winery. At that moment, I had to bring up that when a consumer goes into the grocery store in California, they have a choice of MANY different types of Chardonnay. If a customer calls to complain, they are not talking about your wine (they could have made any other choice), they have an affinity to your BRAND, and that is what let them down. Somewhere in that passionate complaint, there is a lesson that you can use to innovate.
So find ways to listen to what customers say - and to turn that straw into gold. Just remember to Rumpelstiltskin that complaint.
For multiple tools to help your customer service team to transform straw into gold, contact Andrew for a quote.
Many people look at the theatrical work that my company does onstage and they say "it's amazing that this is unscripted!" Or more often it is "So, what part was scripted, and what part was improvised..."
The idea that things are constantly being created in the spot using a few simple rules is mind boggling, and somewhat impossible for people to believe.
The truth is - Improvisation is an act of constant innovation. We take what the audience gives us and create a theatrical work that amazes, engages and involves the audience as active participants in the process. The audience leaves the theater knowing they had a part in the end product that was created.
Wouldn't that be great for your business? If each employee left with the thought that they were a part of the whole, that they had an amount of control over the larger piece that has been created?
These rules for engagement in improvisational theater cross over to any phase of work, to any industry. They can help shape how your company operates, giving each of your employees the chance to leave each day feeling like they are a part of the larger organization.
These tenets: Being willing to play, finding the drive / commitment in what you do, listening and building on offers with your team; these are all skills that we strive for in our organizations.
So why would people look at Improv and say 'what can you teach me about business?'
The answer is: a lot.
I am taking a few days vacation over New Year's to visit my in laws and relax with the family and their Shelties. The two dogs LOVE to herd anything; sheep, people, cars, other dogs... They do whatever they can to ensure that they know who is doing what, and do everything they can to keep the sheep in line. For anyone who has ever had a Sheltie, you know this to be true. It reminds me of working with a number of teams and their manager's leadership styles.
There is an exercise that I use when I do workshops that is a great indicator of how much a person tries to control a situation, and helps define qualities of leadership.
The game creates multiple patterns and stimulus, all of which are very difficult to track. As participants do the exercise and attempt to control the situation, it eventually leads to failure. The lesson that comes out of it; if you do your part, and trust that others will do theirs, then you can let go of trying to control everything. This begins a conversation about team trust and micromanagement.
As you begin the New Year and start to reflect on your own style of managing, ask yourself:
1. What am I trying to control that is out of my control?
2. What can I let go of, and trust that other people can and will take care of ? (And maybe there is a deeper management issue here with those employees to discuss the lack of trust that they will have follow through.)
Here's to a happier 2015, with less need to 'keep all the sheep in line.'
Click here for more information on ImprovMindset workshops and Keynote Presentations for your team.
I had the opportunity to Emcee an event here in Seattle this week that was a graduation of nine companies from a start-up accelerator. As I spent the week meeting and listening to the pitches of the budding CEOs, I was struck by the importance of story and presentation.
Each company had a great story, and some AMAZING technology. The start up accelerator had some great stories as well, and a great track record of helping entrepreneurs find their mission and realize their dreams. As each company's CEO stood up and talked for their six minute presentations, they were only able to partially tell the whole story of what they do.
I started teaching a story structure I learned years ago that is close to the same structure that Pixar uses for their movies:
This basic structure is based on all fairy tales. It can be adapted to whatever need you might have - even a new company:
There are really only three parts:
It's an easy structure, one that we all recognize and can use to help make people understand why we have created the company we have created, or why our software solution exists and what problem it solves. It also helps us see what the future will look like with our new solution.
Ask yourself: am I telling the whole story? When I send emails - am I telling people: 1) what I am working on, 2) what I need and, 3) what I hope to accomplish - or am I not telling the full story? When you tell the story of your company, can you tell the whole story?
ImprovMindset can help you present your story in an effective and memorable way. Click here for more info.
When I talk with Business Leaders about case studies, they always say “I would have done this…” Or “I would not have made that choice…”
The reason that case studies are used for training is that they are subjective; they are an example of a situation - what happened - and outline a decision moment for people to make their own choices as to how they would have reacted.
It’s very easy, in the comfort of our own chairs at home, to decide how we would do something. It’s easy when we sit watching football and say “I would not have chosen that play…” As someone who NEVER played football, when I find myself saying that I have to laugh.
A mentor of mine talked to me about ‘how do you describe the taste of a strawberry?’ The idea is that there are things that have to be experienced, and only by DOING can you know how you would react. We try to explain things that need to be felt - acted - done. It’s not about the words, it’s about action.
I have a favorite joke: How many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb? Six. One to do it, and six to say ‘I could have done it better if I had been given the chance.’
The next time you find yourself saying “I would have done that completely differently…” remember that you didn’t. There might have been fifty mitigating factors that changed how the person who made that decision in real time chose his/her choices.
It doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it and consider your own choices. What it means is that you can consider that you might not know the whole story, and that only by experiencing all the factors of that moment could you really say how you would react. It’s like describing the taste of a strawberry; you have to just do it, as some things need to be done to be experienced.
One thing that comes up at every one of my workshops is the idea of Training, vs. Discipline. I introduce the idea of changing communication and culture by adopting the ideas of Accepting and Building on offers (Yes, and) and we discuss uses and methods.
The big question becomes; How does it become second nature?
When Kevin Durant goes to dunk the basketball, he doesn't think "let's see, right foot first, then the left foot, then I jump at this spot, then I move the ball up..." It all just Happens. Practice makes perfect, and it makes a new reality where you don't have to think, your body just Knows how to do it.
Accepting and Building is the same. It is a practice. And when you practice it enough, you just end up doing it. It becomes a new Discipline that your body understands and automatically does.
The first step is being aware of where your feet go.
The next step is practicing where your feet go.
The third step is letting them go where they have learned to go.
What things are you in the process of practicing that you want to become a Discipline?
And also, what Disciplines do you have now that are detrimental to your goals?
Practice new habits.