Growth is in our DNA. We want to improve, get better results, and see the progress we have made. The challenge (and opportunity) is that we often lack helpful (and healthy) mirrors to offer us perspective on our own growth.

While self-reflection is essential to growth, the information we gain through another person’s perspective is invaluable. We need both kinds of feedback – our own and others’ – to thrive. This natural human thirst for growth creates a tremendous opportunity for leaders who are willing to offer candid, compassionate feedback to the people on their teams.

In fact, leaders who effectively nurture their team’s desire for growth are 30% more likely to be market leaders, over an extended period of time. A leader’s willingness to consistently have honest conversations is a key to setting their team up for increased engagement, retention, and innovation.

A case in point…

Back in November of 2018, I signed up for improv classes. With a deep desire to recover from perfectionism, I pushed past my fears and signed up. I had heard that the enemy of improv is perfectionism.

Signing up was much easier than actually showing up to my first improv class. Thankfully, I got to, and past, the first class. I laughed during the class, and saw that I was not alone with my fears. Together, my classmates and I fumbled, fell, got back up, and learned the basics of improv.

Unexpected Feedback

At the end 8 weeks of going to improv class once a week, we had a performance, in order to showcase the skills we learned.  The week after our showcase at the Big Theater in Baltimore, MD, Andy McIntryre, my improv 101 teacher, sent me this email…

“I like to send a short feedback email to all of my students.”

Feedback? Really? I got nervously excited, as I eagerly read the rest of his email…

“It has been an absolute pleasure having you in class this session. Should you continue with improv, your natural compassion will serve you well. You do a great job of focusing on your scene partners and treating them like the most important thing. This is unbelievably crucial to having successful scenes.”

I barely know Andy, and yet I suddenly found myself believing I am good at Improv. I don’t (yet) believe that I am excellent, or a professional, by any means. But I don’t need to be either of those to continue taking classes and improving.

The people I met through the classes are a blessing in themselves. Struggling alongside them, and ultimately helping to rescue each other during improv scenes, built a connection that allowed all of us to grow together. As a result, I found it easier to connect outside the context of improv.

Improv is also helping me take a more relaxed and innovative approach to my work and my life. I find myself more comfortable trusting my instincts, even with the smallest of decisions.

This has been great for me, because in the past, not wanting to make “wrong” decisions (mistakes), I’ve found myself working in stutter-starts, indecisive, and staying in my comfort zone.

The Myth of the Comfort Zone

I don’t know why we call it a “comfort zone.” There is nothing comfortable about resisting life, or trying to force things to go the way we want. Yet we all do it, and then we call whatever we’ve created out of this resistance, or force, our comfort zone.

Growth is the only real comfort. Life (which is made up of our bodies, relationships, skills, etc.) is always expanding and changing. At the core, Improv is about trusting whatever comes up to come out, and to be expressed in the world.

Wrapping up his email, Andy wrote, “The major thing you need to work on is making sure you are an active player in the scenes instead of just pulling information out of your scene partner.  You do a great job of letting your partner shine (which is the most important thing in improv) but it is also ok for you to shine too.”

Some Simple Words From An Authority Figure

Again, I barely know Andy, but because the school put him into a position of expertise, his feedback holds great weight for me. I assume, because of the position he is in, that he has the experience to know what it takes to excel in improv.

If he thinks I have potential in improv, then maybe I do. What’s most important is that his encouragement made my decision to sign up for Improv 201 effortless. Though, I must admit that I am humbled every week as I find myself failing spectacularly as I struggle to say the perfect funny thing for the moment provided by the scene! It’s great because I’m learning that funny is significantly easier than my brain likes to think it is.

Perfection is the enemy of improv. Whatever comes is what’s meant to come. I remind myself of these things over and over throughout every class. These skills learned from improv are helping me relax, let go, and trust in life.

Here’s to your greatness,

Misti Burmeister

Misti Burmeister has been helping leaders boost engagement and productivity across generations for more than 15 years. Help your team reach its highest potential at https://MistiBurmeister.com