So, our PLP Group gave a presentation at our Culminating Event today, and one of our members, Micheline McManus, gave us the theme – improv.
Yes, our presentation was going to be an improv – we were going to go into it with no planning, and audience suggestions were going to lead our presentation. Talk about out of my comfort zone! I am not a person who usually gets up to make a presentation without knowing what I’m going to say ahead of time. I am a “scripted” person – I have been in theater for years – and even when I am making the script, I will have at least timed and practiced the presentation once.
Our presentation was to be about our process as a group through our year of connected professional development. Micheline drew an analogy between improv and our process. There were certain tenets in improve that mirrored our experience: trust, risk, listen, make the other person look good, and … “Yes, and …”
The idea behind an improv is that no matter what your partner says, you go with it. You don’t say “yes, but …” because that stops the game right there. You take whatever offerings there are and you build on them. With “And…” we are led to a place of action. “But …” leaves us in a state of inaction and indecision.
For part of our presentation, we decided, we would take a tenet and expound on it. I knew I wanted to say something, I could feel it rising within me, but I couldn’t articulate it – yet. But I knew it would come.
T-3 days to go. Still no inspiration. Still lots of talking and thinking around the issue, but nothing coming together. The others had outlined what they would say in our wiki. I still had nothing – except there was something there, I knew it. I logged on to my computer to read some blogs. I found this one from Maggie Hos-McGrane’s “Tech Transformation.” Here she quotes John Lennon: “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” Ok, I thought, what I have to say – it will have something to do with that.
Day before the presentation – no, make that day OF the presentation – 2:30 am. I get up, despite having taken Tylenol PM to get some sleep, and I have the undeniable drive to get up and express myself. My creative brain will not let me sleep until I get it down in writing:
What are you going to say? I don’t know — when I get there, I’ll know, but I won’t know until I get there.
Trusting that inspiration will lead me. This challenges my idea of leadership – that a leader knows where one is going. This gets lots of pushback from within myself. I actually don’t like knowing where I’m going, and my best work happens when I don’t. But it is highly uncomfortable to not know where you’re going, so it is a trust issue.
Remaining with this uncertainty in the face of having others around you who also want to know where they’re going. Ths process can’t always be managed if your outcome is going to be unique – because the outcome hasn’t been decided ahead of time – it is unfolding as you speak (think improv).
When you have a script, everything that looks like the script gets accepted, and everything that doesn’t look like the script gets rejected. Without a script, you don’t now what is going to be accepted or rejected, so you have to just let it happen. TRUST.
Trust the process
Trust that the outcome will be there
Trust that there will be a finish line and that we will finish together
I do know when we’re NOT going anywhere and how to put us back on track.
Sometimes, being the leader means that someone else is going to lead you through it – this might be a co-team member. It could be a student.
Our “plan” was to get up here and dance. [We recreated Derek Sivers' "Leadership from a Dancing Guy" TED talk video example]. We don’t know what the outcome of this will be.
Release the outcome …
Unleash the outcome …
Trust that the road is going to lead somewhere, and that you don’t know where that is.
When others say – we’re not going anywhere, you might need to be the one who says “Yes, we are – let’s keep moving.” A leader keeps us from stopping when we panic and say that we’re not going anywhere. It’s more about discovery than destination. Stop. Look around. What’s right in front of us – rather than way up ahead.
Faith – what if we have nothing? What if we get to the end and there is nothing?
Then, a leader says “There will be something – have faith.”
I’m not saying this is what I did, but I grew during the process, and I had to “unlearn” what I felt a leader was. I made mistakes because I was trying to meet my preconceived notion of what a leader should be, or how others had defined it for me, rather than being the person I am.
When others are saying “We’re not good enough – what we’re producing is not good enough,” a leader says “Yes you are, yes we are – it’s good enough and were getting better.” And the person who says that – the “leader” – is not always the same person – so the group doesn’t have the same leader at any given time. Leaders change places throughout the process.
A leader also has to know when to call it “done” – otherwise, the process will continue without end – because that’s what processes do – the river keeps flowing. The creative ideas keep coming. The leader has to know when to step in and out of this river. [Warning - I'm about to beat this analogy to death ...]
Again, this person may not be the designated leader. Like with our improv activities, the person that feels we’re done nods and we all “yes, and …” them – we all say “ok, done.”
But someone may not feel we’re done, and then that person guides us back to the river. This can be disheartening, because we all thought we were done! Now we’re going to “do over?!” But after that, then we feel, “yes, we weren’t done, but now we are.”
The river is always there when we need it. Trust.