How Improv Made Me a Better Leader

tumblr_lp4dydSfV51qg0le2o1_500It has been a while, but when I was a young student I did both comedic and dramatic improvisational acting. Not to say I no longer like improv; if Dick Costolo started a new improv group, I would join in a heartbeat, #IPOWhosLaughingNow. I can say, without a doubt, that my experience helped make me a better leader, and here’s how:

Using Emotions Effectively

Improv is a form of acting, and there are many styles of it (one having been popularized by an older and newer television series). No matter the style, however, it is important for an actor to understand when, and when not, to be emotional in his/her delivery and to what degree. The same can be said for people leadership. When conveying your vision or debating with others, your emotional degree at any given moment can mean the difference between getting team buy-in and dealing with team mutiny.

Not Taking Myself Too Seriously

In comedy improv, you quickly learn to make fun of yourself and your surroundings. After all, there are few things more acceptably funny that your own shortcomings. When you are a leader, by definition, a group of people are looking to you for direction. Understanding for yourself and declaring to others that you are human and imperfect, and celebrating that fact, will only help you better relate to your team.

Instincts + Intelligence = Gold

In popular forms of improv, there is not a lot of time for actors to think about “what’s next.” Proper training, decent smarts, and quick thinking can lead to excellent results. The same can be said for leadership. Being able to make intelligent decisions while trusting your gut usually leads to excellent results.

Support the Team, Even in the Unknown

One of the central rules of improv is to never disagree with the direction of your partner(s), the reason being that conflict, unless intentional to the method, rarely looks good. Trusting your partner(s) instincts and direction is usually good for everyone involved. Your team (with their experience, instinct, and education) should be trusted in the same way. A leader is not a dictator, and when members of your team may have unique experiences that lend themselves to the task at hand, enabling the success of those individuals can lead to some great results.

Have some great improv stories, a favorite Whose Line sketch, or any critiques? Tweet at me with #improv, and let me know!

Cross posted from

Remind Yourself To Ask: What is Necessary and What is Superfluous?

CambodiaI recently returned from a trip to Cambodia where I spent a few days exploring the ancient temples. It was an amazing trip, and I wholly recommend it to anyone interested in these types of excursions. One thing I noticed immediately about  all of the temples was the level of detail put in to them.

To think that these were built hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago with no electricity or modern equipment is incredible. What was equally impressive was that this detail could be found inside as well as outside the building that weren’t exactly small. I cannot imagine the thousands of man-hours it took to create these buildings (or the consequences for those who made a mistake on them). 


As I walked through these temples, I found myself thinking about a lesson I quickly learned in the startup world: focus on your core. At Startup Weekend, we often describe this as an MVP, or minimum viable product. Working for a small startup or a large organization, you have a finite amount of resources to build products and services for your customers. As you work on your product or service, remind yourself of what is necessary and what is superfluous. Without this focus, human and capital resources will quickly become scarce, much like the Khmer Empire.

Cross-posted from