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Practice Improvisation as a Leader

"Improvise" Leader Spotlight: Tony Strieter Improvisation (or “improv”) is the art of creating a unique, new musical statement on the spur of the moment. This does not mean that your utterance is entirely without precedent. Improvisation is a product of the individual’s history, temperament, technical facility, and mood, as well as the thrust of the composition which houses the performance. In late 2010, at the peak of the economic crisis, IBM surveyed over 1,400 chairmen in 60 countries about the challenges they encountered in managing their company. Did they want their organizations to be more rigorous and disciplined? Did they want people to understand their customers better? Did they get a better grasp of the implications of market globalization? For 60 percent, the crucial question proved to be, “How can we develop the creativity and innovation skills of our organization?” In crisis environments, the ability to adapt in real time and take advantage of situations despite uncertainty appears to be an increasingly critical factor in the success—even the survival—of a business. Strategic plans, skills planning, detailed programs, operational procedures, etc., all testify to the fact that disciplined frameworks are paramount in most organizations. However, experience shows that people who are allowed to improvise find it easier to take constructive initiatives with their backs to the wall.

Today's business world requires leaders and entrepreneurs to be open to new ideas, have flexibility in thought and action, take risks, work within ambiguity and uncertainty and still confidently move forward – just like improvisers. I saw this first hand with Ohio professional, Tony Strieter. Our paths crossed sometime ago as I witnessed first hand his ability to make spur of the moment decisions, synthesize information and make others look good. His career path has afforded him many unique opportunities; from holding management positions in both a real estate company and event services company. He has learned to develop his skills in leadership from his lessons learned also as a professional jazz guitarist. Improvisational Leadership

  • Create a psychologically safe environment. (Safe Stage) Improvising requires people to momentarily abandon the safety of their habits. Try something different...New Ideas. This cannot be done without management encouragement and support.

  • Lay the groundwork for improvisation. (Know the Theory) A clear framework channels creativity and provides an invaluable shared frame of reference to avoid chaos.

  • Recognize your limits and abilities (Know Your Instrument)

  • Regularly create opportunities to improvise. (Practice) Like any skill, the ability to improvise develops with practice.

Improvisational leaders accept change quickly and look for opportunities immediately. They choose to be optimistic while viewing different perspectives. Both Tony Strieter and international company, IBM incorporated the use of the musical technique to discover solutions from scarce materials, on low budgets and thus bounce back from perceived failure.

Always let your hopes, not your hurts and handicaps, shape your future. Clare Boothe Luce wisely observed: "There are no hopeless situations in life; there are only people who have grown hopeless about them." Leadership based upon hope and moving forward at times requires a little improv here and there. All leaders improvise; good leaders consciously practice improvisation. Great leaders master it. Creative Coaching through Music:

“Music can change the world because it can change people” - Bono

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