Status in London Business School


Professor Gabe Adams at London Business School is one of a growing number of academics that have seen the power of applied improv in the business world and integrated it into their curriculum. The students go from skeptical to evangelists in a single class. Applied improv can bridge the rigor of academic theory and real world practice in the classroom and prepare the students for the ambiguity that business life brings.

Prof. Adams asked me to teach status in her class Paths to Power which looks at many aspects of power. Status in improv, which is different than social status, looks at the behaviors and nonverbal communication that gives us authority or makes us approachable. Language still plays a role, but there is a whole world to explore when the dialogue is eliminated or constrained.

Status - a dynamic condition of a relationship or interaction

Social Status - a ranking of worth, value or importance

Even the simplest of exercises can start to explore the relationship of power and status. Dan Klein at Stanford University introduced me to a simple activity that asks students standing in a circle to take a single step forward and calmly say "Hello, my name is. And, I here." before stepping back into the circle. There are a huge number of variations that display the level of comfort the students have and their own relationships, in that moment, to authority and power. From humor, to rebellion, to simple and calm confidence to participate without changing the exercise or words - their actions speak loudly to the rest of the class as they observe.

Each student will take away their own lessons, insights, and learning from the class. However, one of my stated learning objectives was:

All human interactions are communication in the language of status. Making conscious choices in what you say nonverbally increases your chance of successful leadership.

Bringing improv into one to one coaching


cubicleOne minute you are sitting in your cube, checking your email. The next you hear a knock and all of sudden you are on a theater stage with a spot light glaring in your eyes and expected to perform. Now you wish you had taken at least one art or theater class in high school! This is what some clients might feel when you bring up improv games in a one on one coaching session. What I learned from the AIN conference session by Drew Tarvin was that there are the four main things to watch for:


It's easier to be part of or hide in a group. The experience of a one-on-one session is much more intimate and you need a higher level of trust for the client to be comfortable performing when all eyes (yours) are on them.  Take the time to build trust and always be prepared to keep the trust equal by playing along and contributing in the games as much as the client.


The way you approach building trust and what games you play will depend on if you have a single session or multiple sessions. Keeping games simple, light, and introducing the concept of celebrating risk or failure will help right off the bat. Taking the time to let trust build and not pushing too hard will pay off every time.


As the coach you have to operate on two levels - the improviser and the facilitator. You need to develop your split brain and maintain observation without interrupting your game. When it does happen, it's a great time to own that and model the celebration of taking risks.


Regardless of the exercise or coaching, be sure to clearly define the goals and understand how the activity is moving toward the goal. Many games are fun to play, and sometimes that is a goal for unblocking or building trust. Games can be used in different ways, make sure you know what you are trying to achieve.

What do you think?

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