This fall I have been really lucky to study and work alongside Alissa Schwartz in New York and Wendy Morris in Minneapolis. Both of these women are actors and performance artists, and in my working with them I have become cracked wide open to the reality of leadership and ACTION as performance, best trained through understanding the relationship of the inner body to the outer, the presence of the individual in relation to the collective and relational field.
Since connecting with the Applied Improvisational Network and working with colleagues Viv McWaters, Johnnie Moore and Geoff Brown, I have been learning more and more about the kind of play that goes on in leadership. And I have recently been touched by the work of David Diamond at Headlines Theatre in a number of ways. This inquiry has led me into a much more embodied practice.
So I’m now thinking about everything I know about leadership, and have concluded that the traditional distinction between leadership and management is less about doing vs. being and more about technique vs. improv. On the technical side, management is about deploying resources and structuring relations using tools and processes. But on the improvisational side, leadership is about making and accepting offers, responding to context resourcefully, exploring the ligature of relationship and supporting engagement.
Is there anything about leadership that cannot be taught with a little theatre training? Actor training is not about creating a character that is not you. It is rather about connecting with your deepest self, and your lived experience to be the authentic character that you need to be. Improv is about relaxing everything you thought you knew about what is going on and being open to new sources of resilience and resourcefulness.
So how is that for a provocative proposition? It is a big learning edge for me and will be for my clients as well, but I can’t think of a better way to learn about and discover our inherent leadership capacities and the edges of our own learning and development, especially in a world where certainty is at a premium, and power constrains action with pre-determined process at every turn.
Improvise, respond, concretize, perform.