What do successful business leaders have that make them more effective than their counterparts? I believe success comes to those who are outstanding communicators, fearless innovators, confident decision-makers, positive disrupters, catalysts for change, and critical thinkers. However, even with these seemingly steadfast traits, some leaders remain fragile.
That’s because there is one additional skill that cannot be taught in business school nor acquired by reading business journals…AGILITY.
Agility represents a unique ability to handle ambiguity, to promote teamwork and collaboration, and to be a flexible coach and the best mentor possible in any number of situations. A well-known Chinese proverb suggests that the wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water molds itself to the pitcher. Thus, to become a wise leader, one must be able to adjust, remain malleable, and demonstrate agility.
While leading a San Diego-based improvisational comedy group (Just Kiddin’) before rediscovering Milwaukee 24 years ago, I surrounded myself with fellow team members who shared certain skills:
- Fearless of new ideas
- Adaptable to fluid situations
- Able to handle unexpected circumstances
- Could change direction as needed
It is this set of improvisational skills that I feel are essential to leadership. Perhaps Liam Neeson in one of his most popular “Taken” movie roles as Bryan Mills (2009) described this best when characterizing his own unique talents in a very convincing manner, “What I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career.”
This is true of strong leaders, also, whose acquired skillsets have been shaped over time through a variety of unique situations and have maintained the ability to positively affect others. During the dozens of presentations I am invited to deliver annually – whether to hundreds at an industry-wide event or a client’s team of 20 – I often focus on three key subsets of agility: nimbleness, relevance, and courage. For traditional brick-and-mortar retailers it is these traits that will position them to better contend with online competitors; for other industries it underscores the importance of reinvention and resistance to complacency.
Credit is due to my early improv training while a member of the original Theatersports troupe in Milwaukee during the early ’80s alongside Dick Chudnow who went on to start ComedySportz in 1984. There are now more than 24 cities with licensed ComedySportz organizations. I encourage you to learn from the agility of these performers who constantly have to think on their feet and deliver, no matter what is thrown their way.
So whether an aspiring leader or practicing professional, step outside your comfort zone and improvise. If you feel hesitant, a ComedySportz workshop or another format can help you overcome your fears. Or bring in a dynamic speaker to fire up your team’s creative juices. You’ll soon discover that possessing the ability (and agility) to think on your feet will quickly become the most powerful tool in your arsenal.
David J. Wendland is vice president at Hamacher Resource Group Inc. in Waukesha.