Tag Archives: career advice

Six Ways Improv Can Improve Your Leadership Skills

Looking to take your leadership style to the next level?  Try improv!  Seriously.

Last year, as part of my performance evaluation, I was told in kinder terms that for my career development I should boost my executive leadership presence.  My review was solid, but if I wanted to take it to the next level, this was something to address.  No one doubted my capability or capacity, but my brand had lost some of its sizzle as I was bogged down by my daily grind as the Chief Marketing Officer of one of GE Healthcare’s biggest and most profitable businesses.

I did some soul searching and acknowledged that I needed to freshen up my leadership style.  As I considered alternatives, I began to evaluate development tools.  I’ve benefited from best in class leadership courses in universities and in corporate programs at GE and J&J, but I was looking for something different that could significantly impact my behavior.  Then I recalled something I’ve always wanted to do, but never took the time to – always with the excuse of “that’s not for me” – improv.

ComedySportz, Milwaukee, WI 2014
2014 ComedySportz, Milwaukee, WI

Improv, as defined by Wikipedia, “is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed. In its purest form, the dialogue, the action, the story and the characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time, without use of an already prepared, written script.” 

I’ve always prided myself in being prepared, on strategy and with a clear objective in mind, not… well, being improvisational.

The Benefits of Improv : PILLAR

Challenged by the concept, I looked up the local club and decided to give it a try.  Ten months later, I am a convert.  Improv has boosted my leadership skills in unforeseen ways which corporate or university programs previously have not:

  1. Poise – Although I’ve always been a good speaker, facing a completely foreign audience on any topic without the benefit of any preparation is sure to challenge the best of us.  Poise, conviction and resolve are crucial to your delivery, on and off stage.
  2. Innovation – The only rule in improv is that there are no rules.  Through a series of “yes, and” you and your colleagues build a spontaneous reality that is both creative and original.
  3. Listening – By far, the biggest surprise I’ve had is the realization that improv has remarkably improved my listening skills.  I find myself much more attuned to what people say, particularly in interviews, presentations and the often dreaded marathon teleconferences.
  4. Laughter – I’ve always wanted to be that leader who uses the right humor with impeccable timing to diffuse tense situations.  While I’m not there yet, I can tell you that I am laughing a lot more in all aspects of my life and that my laughter is contagious with my team and workplace.
  5. Adaptability – The market, competition and unforeseen forces challenge us to be adaptable leaders.  Improv fortifies these muscles, as on stage you can be told to become someone with specific personality traits and you must make the story work – same as in business life.
  6. Risk-taking – Improv is 100% risk, in real time.  What’s more, the more you do it, the more you crave it.  The ability to take risks, rapidly, plays well in our competitive business environment.


This year, my performance review significantly improved in this developmental area, largely as a result of my newfound improvisational skills.  If you find yourself stuck in the same development conundrum, try improv!  You’ll be amazed if you stick with it.

Keep growing!


This article was featured on PM360 Online


Can a Career Setback Actually Empower You?

Have you experienced a career downturn? If you haven’t yet, I hate to break it to you…it’s just a matter of time. Careers, like roller coasters, have ups and downs. However, unlike roller coasters, careers are not automatically propelled nor do they have a fixed track to follow. It’s up to you to navigate your path.

The Best Thing that Could Ever Happen To You—How a Career Reversal Can Reinvigorate Your Life (Big Shoes Publishing, 2013), by Sander A. Flaum, former CEO of Euro RSCG Life, is an insightful, wise and pragmatic book that can help you bounce back from a downturn by teaching you how to identify your fears, master your internal inhibitors, unleash your unique potential and ultimately propel you forward after a career setback.

I spent time with Sander discussing some of the intriguing aspects of his book. What follows is a condensed version of that conversation:

Why did you write this book?

A major pharmaceutical company went through a divestiture and employees found themselves disenfranchised. I was asked to come in and speak to them about their transition. I researched and put together the content of what is now the book. After one of the presentations, a senior sales leader asked me to come into his office where he became emotional stating, “You changed my life out there. You have to write a book about what you just said.” I wanted to help people out there who feel hopeless after a downturn.

How did you arrive at the title?

From personal experience. I had a devastating experience that led me to a separate path and eventually a very successful career. Looking back at it, it was literally the best thing that ever happened to me.

You write that “men tend to equate their self-worth with their jobs to a higher degree than many women do.” What specific advice would you give men?

Sociologists and anthropologists have concluded that men, in general, find their self-worth based on how far they have progressed in their career and what successes they have achieved. At the same time, they fail to develop rich networks. I’d advise three things:

1. Start networking immediately—call recruiters who have called you in the past, reach out to past employers and connect with specialty interest groups.

2. Talk to at least one key person everyday—reach out to people who are influential and can help you get a job.

3. Deliver your personal brand as a key message—it’s not about you, it’s about what value you bring to your next position.

What suggestion do you have for someone who’s been downsized or terminated?

Ask HR for a termination letter explaining the rationale for the departure. Write the letter yourself (example in the book) and ask them to edit as needed. There has to be complete consistency in what you are saying as the reason why you’re no longer with the company and what they will hear from your past employer.

What advice do you have about working with recruiters?

Find retained recruiters. Clearly communicate your brand in 20 seconds. Remember, it’s all about the value or ROI you can bring for the recruiter’s clients—it’s not about you. And when you talk to recruiters, don’t bad mouth your past company: A recruiter will simply not place you.

If you’re experiencing a downturn or foresee one in the near future, I recommend Sander’s new book. It’s a detailed “how to” that he’s developed over years of successful executive and academic experience. It can empower you to create the next fulfilling chapter of your career and life.

This book review was published in January’s PM360 issue.