Improve your security leadership with one simple lesson from improv
Leading from the front is a regular series from Michael Santarcangelo that shares practical tips, insights and solutions focused on security leadership, security awareness and effective communication. In this article, he reveals how theatre improv techniques can be applied to security leadership
By Michael Santarcangelo
August 10, 2011 — CSO —
"Your job is to make your partner look like a rock star."
A basic concept for those who study and perform improv, this advice is key to successful security leadership and the advancement of individual careers in security.
[Related: Security leadership with 3 "Roadhouse" rules]
Improv, called 'theatre sports,' is played as a series of games. Effective players learn — and routinely practice — some basic rules to create the foundation for success. Improv is not designed to be a one-person show; successful improv requires one or more partners playing by similar rules to be entertaining.
Many think the role of the improv player is to "be funny." And while "funny happens," the job of the player is different: make your partner look like a rock star.
The wisdom of this directive is that your partner(s) have the same goal —to make you look like a rock star.
Security is the same way.
Effective security leadership sets the conditions by which the "players" focus on making each other look like rock stars.
In the process, individuals contribute their best to those around them. This makes it easier for their partner to shine, to be successful and to be helpful. In return, the balance of the team is doing the same. Executed properly, it leads to a situation where everyone wins, and nobody has to lose.
Experience and focus lifts everyone
When two new players take the stage, so much goes through the mind that remembering to make your partner look like a rock star fades into distant memory. Plus, the opportunity to grab and execute a laugh line sometimes takes over.
Security feels the same way: the pace, the pressure and the opportunity to demonstrate success — even at someone else's expense —sometimes takes over.
In both cases, it is easy to want to make others look like rock stars while forgetting to put the concept to practice. It takes strong leadership and regular application to make it happen.
In improv, working with veteran players is a different experience: they make it easy to be funny. They always seem to deliver a perfect setup, ripe for the taking. They laugh when you're funny, step in when you're not. It's hard to look bad when playing with a partner determined to make you look like a rock star.
These experienced partners set the example due to their regular, focused practice of making others look good. As more members gain this ability, the positive results of elevating others becomes the new norm for the entire team.