Leadership Lessons from The Second City

Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton
Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton

During last night’s book launch event hosted by the Chicago Tribune’s Blue Sky, Yes, And co-authors Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton discussed how to use improvisation to achieve personal and business objectives.  They should know since they run The Second City theater company in Chicago, which besides putting on comedy shows, also conducts unique employee training programs.

Kelly and Tom say anyone can employ the seven elements of improv to become a better leader–or follower. Their tips remind me of the creative brainstorming processes at many agencies or any well run meeting. Here are their seven elements of improv:

  1. Yes, And. Give every idea a chance.
  2. Ensemble. Reoncile the needs of individuals with those of the broader team.
  3. Co-creation, Support the importance of dialogue in creating new products, processes and relationships.
  4. Authenticity. Be unafraid to speak truth to power, challenge convention, and break the rules.
  5. Failure. Not only is it okay to fail, but always include it as part of the process.
  6. Follow the Follower. Give any member of the group the chance to assume a leadership role.
  7. Listening.  Learn to stay in the moment, and know the difference between listening to understand and listening merely to respond.

Destined to become a business best seller, “Yes, And” is loaded with logical, but often overlooked leadership tips. Towards the end of the book is a valuable list of tips that staff at The Second City developed over the years. This list is taped on the wall at the theater as a constant reminder for those who want to be better at what they do:

  1. Look people in the eye when you meet them.
  2. Smile.
  3. Don’t check your texts or e-mail when someone else is talking.
  4. Be curious.
  5. Try to eliminate the word no from your vocabulary for just one day.
  6. When you are wrong, acknowledge it, say you’re sorry, and move on.
  7. Forgive yourself and gorgive others.
  8. Lead as you would want to be led.
  9. Don’t be an asshole, and don’t abide assholes.
  10. Be on time.
  11. Excel at preparation.
  12. Ask yourself, what is the problem you are trying to solve?
  13. Make your partner look good.
  14. Respect, don’t revere.
  15. Listen to the whole person.
  16. Read the room.
  17. Share the conversation.
  18. Love your work.
  19. Applaud others.
  20. Say we rather than I whenever possible.
  21. Consider that you might not be right.
  22. Open your door.
  23. Try not to work out of fear; work from a sense of possibility.
  24. Understand the audience you’re trying to win over, and give them a role.
  25. Be an improviser.

My spring quarter class at DePaul will see this list, and hear other leadership tips during a visit to The Second City. Can’t wait.

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