Improvise to Be a Better Leader


Being a better leader comes down to one thing: Saying yes!

If you can create space for “yes” in your day, you’ll grow improvisational behaviors like flexibility, positivity and humor, connect with people, and build trust amongst your team.

When you can do that, you’ll have a team that’s fully turned on, engaged and performing.


Improvisation’s humble beginnings

Improvisation is an art form that lets performers “create in the moment.” There’s no script, plan or score.

Jazz musicians follow the same principles as an improv comedy troupe. When one takes the stage or starts riffing, nobody in either group knows what will happen next.

Sound familiar?

These scenarios happen all day, every day in business.

And you can be a better leader if you steal some skills from the improv stage.

Improv is:

  • Delivering high performance despite a lack of resources (there’s no props or costumes).
  • Managing risk and thinking in the moment (handling the audience reactions, for example).
  • Collaborating in the moment for a positive outcome (rolling with whatever your troupe contributes during a scene).

Here’s the secret

An improv troupe is able to navigate these uncharted waters because they agree to say “Yes” to every contribution.

Instead of disagreeing, playing devil’s advocate or looking for issues first  –  which makes people feel like they aren’t valued, shuts down interaction and kills collaboration  –  the onstage group reacts to a statement like, “There’s a lion over there!” by accepting the idea.

Yes space makes people feel valued and they open up. Keep in mind, saying “yes” isn’t a commitment. It’s the acceptance of the possibility.

When every idea is considered, the individual also feels valid. By creating this yes space in the office, you’ll shift the environment into one where improvisation and “yes” become a natural reflex.

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When every idea is considered, the individual also feels valued.


Yes in action

Here’s how the landscape of one company changed when the leadership learned to say yes.

A global architecture firm was struggling with design reviews. The results were terrible. The designers reacted by tossing the work in the trash and starting over  –  a move that cost the company a lot of money.
After evaluating the issue, the leaders realized that the designers reacted in this way because they assumed everything was bad. The didn’t understand that some of the design was good, because the design review didn’t include anything positive.
Once the leadership changed the design review process to include 10 minutes of “yes” at the beginning of the design review process, things changed. The designers had a positive attitude, and they became engaged in and excited about the design review process. They preserved more of the work, saving the company money and time.


Making one simple tweak in their review process turned things around for this architecture firm. And it can work for your organization, too.

Be the leader that says yes and create an environment where employees will feel safe to share ideas. They’ll quickly learn that even if their idea doesn’t pan out, the agreement with which their idea is met earns trust  –  so they’ll come back to the table and engage.

Tomorrow, make it a point to meet every idea with agreement, and watch what happens to your team.

How do you say “yes” to your team?

This article is 100% written by a human named Karen Hough. She is the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, in the top 4% of women-owned businesses in the US, a 3-time Amazon bestselling author, Yale grad, wife and mom of three.