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Archive for December, 2013

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The holidays are a perfect time to catch up on reading just for fun.  This Christmas you won’t catch me knee deep in a James Michener novel.   Instead I look for lighthearted tales, with a tinge of sarcasm.   So if that’s your cup of tea as well, I recommend heating up a nice cup of hot chocolate and sitting down to read Tina Fey’s book “Bossy Pants.”

In Bossy Pants, Tina describes what she learned at Second City, an improvisation and sketch comedy theater in Chicago.  She says the rules of improvisation will change your life and reduce belly fat. And, maybe these rules can also improve the engagement on your team or the relationship with your significant other.  You be the judge.

Rule#1- Always agree and say yes.

In a business sense this doesn’t mean that we simply run with any idea no matter how bad.  Instead, as Fey puts it, the rule reminds you to “respect what your partner has created and at least start from an open-minded place.”  Fey points out that in improv, this takes the form of saying, “Freeze, I have a gun,” to which your partner should avoid saying, “No you don’t, that’s your finger.”  See.  That’s not funny.  In business when employees say, “This new software stinks,” we should avoid reviewing the three competitive bids and 20-page document that shows why it does not stink, because this kills employee engagement.  An alternative might be to say, “Yes, it sounds like we have some bugs to work through. Let’s see if IT can help us through this.”  In both comedy and business, saying “yes,” validates the other person and shows you trust what they are talking about.

Rule #2 – Say Yes, And. 

In improv, Fey says that it’s all about adding something of your own.  When your partner lays out a line like “Boy it’s hot in here,” you could respond with, “Yes, and that can’t be good for the wax figures.”  The point is relationships are positively impacted when you respect what the other person has presented and add something to it.  Fey says this rule is about not being afraid to contribute.  So as leaders we want to encourage contribution to make a little bit of magic happen.  That magic, according to Professor Fey, is the result of showing people that their initiative is worthwhile.  As employees we need to take a risk and speak up, ask for that assignment and stretch a little bit.

Rule #3 – Make Statements

This rule is Fey’s shorthand for something we often try to teach in our leadership development training curriculum.  I’m simply going to quote Fey because I don’t want to ruin the humor while making the point.  She says:   “Be a part of the solution, don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.  We’ve all worked with that person.  That person is a drag. It’s usually the same person around the office who says things like, “There’s no calories in it if you eat it standing up? Or, “I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice.”  As leaders we sometimes need a reminder to stop raising obstacles and get out of our employee’s way.   As employees we need to think positively and act with positive intent.

Rule #4 – The Best Rule:  There are no Mistakes, only Opportunities.

Employees won’t believe this if they are chastised when they try something new and it doesn’t work out.  So, while this saying is great, employees want to know they can use a little bit of trial and error.  Obviously trial and error is not a recommended practice in the surgery suite or for the employees who manufacture your car.  Fey’s words are an encouragement to create engagement by letting people takes risks.  Why?  Because, in her words, “Many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident – I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter cup or Botox.” 

What are you reading over the holidays?

*A big hearty thank you to Garth Wade at Regional and Tom Minas at Clovis for mocking their supervisors on camera. Directors Drenda Montgomery and Brenda Diel – you both are role models of supervisory wisdom!  Thanks for helping me illustrate this tale.  Happy Holidays!

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*This blog was originally posted on Community Medical Center’s Blog – It Takes Community.  Follow Peg on Twitter @peg_breen

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Thanksgiving was lovely.  The Ina Garten recipe I used to make the turkey and stuffing turned out beautifully, the weather was gorgeous and I had the chance to indulge in one of my favorite past times – watching a great story told on film.  The Hunger Games Catching Fire box office sales reportedly topped $200 million in its first six days, and nine of those dollars were mine.

At first I was caught up in the real story.  Katniss Everdeen, who had survived the Hunger Games in book one is now suffering posttraumatic stress syndrome.  In a twist of fate, she must join her faux love interest Peeta, to go back into the game and kill or be killed.  But as I thought about it on the drive home, it came to me that her survival skills could work just as well in our everyday work lives.

It’s difficult to kill people once you know them 

Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch Abernathy, a hard-liquor drinking, yoda-like mentor who tells Katniss that she better form an alliance with a couple of the other more experienced players or she’ll surely be killed.  This is smart advice right?  The world runs on relationships. What if we employed Katniss’s strategy at work, by sharing more of our authentic self with the people with whom we work.  Or giving compassion to people we know are struggling to avoid the poison fog. It would cause people to pause. There might be better teamwork, less blaming, more fun and less stress.  If you had to choose someone to get to know better at work, who would it be?

Prepare to fight but refuse to shoot first  

In one scene, Katniss draws her bow and arrow on a fellow fighter who pleads with her not to shoot him by saying, “Remember who the real enemy is.”   She had honed her skills and could take him down, but instead lowers her bow.  Showing restraint and emotional intelligence when things are tense is one of the most sought after skills in business.  Are you as empowered and confident as Katniss?  If not, whom can you trust to help you develop this skill?

Beware of the baboons

I just had to mention the baboons.  At one point I embarrassed myself by screaming like a little girl when one of the raging creatures charged our heroine.   But beyond my fear of angry monkeys, a message is buried here.   Fear is way too common in the workplace.  We fear failure.  We fear the people we report to.  We fear we’re not smart enough. We fear someone will find out we are imposters.  What’s your personal baboon?  What fear is keeping you from peak performance at work, or finding contentment and happiness?

Remember the lightening strikes at noon and midnight

Toward the end of the movie we discover that the lightening is a signal that a threat is coming. You know, the regular stuff…blood rain, floods, angry baboons.   But our fighters also figure out that there is a pattern – that the lightening strikes at specific intervals of time.  Being able to recognize patterns and respond to them is a skill that helped Katniss survive.   Managing change and having hope, even when times are uncertain, is as necessary for our survival at work as the bow was to Katniss.  How well do you deal with change?  What techniques can you use to better manage stress?

Take time to relax, spend time with friends and family, and take in some entertainment over the holidays.  If you watched the Hunger Games or took in another movie, share your review and anything you learned about yourself.  Happy Holidays.

(This post originally appeared on the Community Medical Centers website in a blog titled “It Takes Community”.  Follow Peg on Twitter @peg_breen )

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