How Improv Transformed My Leadership Style

Brooke Katalinich
4 min readJul 2, 2019

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When I think back to the times I have initiated change within my own life, these times are usually accompanied by some amount of uncomfortableness and fear. In 2015 I took an improv class to help with my fear of public speaking. I figured what better way to confront my fear than by fully immersing myself in theatrics — plus there was a performance at the end. Go big or go home.

Working within the confines of this team help drive me to grow and challenge myself. This 8-week course was truly a crash-course in leadership not only for myself but for ultimately building the environment necessary to promote sustainable change. The lessons I learned in this class have continued to drive my focus as a leader to inspire change. Most notably it is imperative to develop a shared sense of purpose, create a safe environment and share vulnerabilities to enhance trust.

Sense of purpose

When I began my improv journey I was purposeful in my goal ahead. It was concise and deliberate. I was taking improv for a crash-course in the skills of public speaking and building on the ideas of others. By establishing my purpose early-on, I was able to define success for myself and keep myself on track. Throughout the process, I kept track of my progress and broke larger goals into smaller actionable steps. This approach is directly tied to managing teams and helping to inspire change within them. As a leader, it is imperative to create a purpose-driven culture where teams are aware of the vision and can work together to meet it.

Create a safe space

Trust and safety are instrumental in fostering change. For myself, the improv teams created a fun, stress-free environment where team members were free to be themselves without judgment. An important technique for this is the “Yes, and…” approach. For those that aren’t familiar, “Yes, and…” thinking requires that participants accept one another’s idea and must build on top of it. This foundational line of thinking fosters psychological safety as team members are encouraged to take risks. To me, this approach has become integral within our teams. It’s important to accept team members ideas as they are and either build on top of or reframe ideas into potential challenges when further exploration is needed.

Sharing vulnerabilities

Going hand in hand with the “Yes, and…” technique is the back and forth exchange of vulnerabilities. By accepting each other as we are, we create an environment where team members are free to be themselves. Within my improv journey, this allowed me to be vulnerable on stage knowing that my team members had my back. And their ideas would help build on top of or reframe my own instead of shooting them down. This notion is integral to building a culture of trust where team members feel safe to be themselves and explore ideas from different perspectives. This exploration is necessary for innovation to exist.

In closing, my experience as an improv member taught me the importance of being part of a successful team based on the foundation of a shared purpose and built within safety and vulnerability. These lessons may not have taught me everything necessary to be an effective leader, but it was definitely a crash-course. To fully embrace what defines a great leader, growth is continual. Check back with me as my journey continues. It’s a wild ride.

I hope you found this article on improv techniques useful to apply within your teams and leadership style. Keep an eye out for the next article and thank you for reading. Comments and feedback are always appreciated.

Links to additional articles below.

Core Leadership Values

Design Sprint Series

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