Appreciate who we are becoming

I’ve been experiencing and learning about human development both personally and professionally as I approach six months of my new professional life as a consultant and coach.  As readers of this blog know I like to quote Dr. Fred Newman who created a methodology and practice (social therapy) that has given thousands of people around the world the opportunity to develop and create their lives.

Fred used to have a call-in radio show called, Let’s Develop!. I’d take time and carefully design questions for Fred and call into the show almost every week; Fred was always very appreciative of calls from “Marian from Manhattan”. One week he responded to a question I asked by sharing that development is the interplay of who you were, who you are, and who you are becoming.

These words have come to me several times during coaching sessions with MBA students. I’m helping them develop confidence and skills as they go through their interviews for internships and post-graduate positions. Combining my experience as an executive search consultant, actress/director, and improvisational expert I give students the support and direction they need to play and pretend, practice and develop a performance of who they are becoming.

In a HBR post this week Joshua Erlich wrote a piece Developing Executive Presence that summed up the basic work that executive coaches do to help with this issue —

This quote jumped out at me:

Practice with support. Letting a colleague or mentor know you are working on presence can boost your skills and confidence.

People need support.  Maybe that sounds obvious but I think we underestimate how much support we all need to grow in our overly individualistic culture.  In order to move in and around who we were, who we are and who we are becoming we need to build relationships that support this kind of growth — that support development. Since it’s football season I’ve been looking at the coaches on the sidelines; so much of what they do is push their players to go beyond themselves.  Off the field and in the boardroom or other settings where we find ourselves it is not always so easy to find a coach, a mentor, or a friend who will and can give the kind of support needed to grow.

Growing is emotional — going beyond ourselves, becoming who we are not, is frightening.  All too often we leave out the emotional component, which requires those of us who are coaching to create an environment and relationship which allows soneone to go beyond “boosting skills and confidence” to a place where they can pretend** (see article below).  As a coach I see my role as a director and as a developmentalist — I’m there to help people experience that interplay Fred was talking about.

A big part of how we can give support is both teaching and engaging in the activity of appreciation. Here’s an excerpt from a paper by Drs. Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani called Let’s Pretend** 

“Appreciation” is a sophisticated developmental skill. It is highly subjective, in that we might all have varied objects that we appreciate. Yet, appreciation itself takes a common form in the culture. And here’s what’s important. Appreciation is fundamentally performatory.

The value of coaching as I see it is to create a space for development and help people become less alienated about our human capacity to create our lives. Let’s develop!

Why improv?

On Friday I was having a conversation with a new friend and colleague I met at the NYC Applied Improvisation Network and he asked me the question, “Why improv?” in business.  My response had a lot to do with my understanding of and appreciation for “the power of play” – play is where development, creativity and innovation takes place.  I invited him to a fundraiser that was held yesterday for the East Side Institute to get a taste of the cutting edge approaches to learning, development, therapeutics and community-building that are sponsored by the organization.   

At the event I introduced my entrepreneurial colleague to the CEO of Performance of a Lifetime, Cathy Salit. POAL is one of the premier training organizations doing theatre-based executive education and Cathy happens to be a long-time colleague of mine (we perform musical improv comedy together in the Proverbial Loons).  It was helpful to hear Cathy talk about the therapeutic aspect of the work she and POAL does, creating new possibilities for individuals and therefore for groups/organizations.

On Sundays I always enjoy reading Adam Bryan’s “Corner Office” column in the New York Times.  Ironically yesterday he started his interview with Mark Fuller, CEO of WET Design with a discussion of improvisation.  I was happy to see this and sent the link to my friend.  This is the quote that jumped out at me:

If you think about it, if you have an argument with your wife or husband, most of the time people are just waiting for the other person to finish so they can say what they’re waiting to say. So usually they’re these serial machine-gun monologues, and very little listening. That doesn’t work in improv. If we’re on the stage, I don’t know what goofball thing you’re going to say, so I can’t be planning anything. I have to really be listening to you so I can make an intelligent — humorous or not — response.

I love that Fuller starts out by talking about the mundane arguments we all have and, although he doesn’t say that, the activity of improvisation, of performing, of pretending in life in a self-conscious manner is undeniably developmental.  And I have to say that most of my day is spent interviewing people and I do have to underline what Fuller is saying about “serial machine-gun monologues, and very little listening” but I will save that topic for another blog post!

Back to the fundraiser at the East Side Institute – Dr. Lenora Fulani, the Dean of the All Stars Project’s new initiative UX, and a co-founder of the All Stars gave a presentation on her work.  She has recently co-written a paper with Dr. Fred Newman, her fellow co-founder of the All Stars called “Let’s Pretend” (use this link to download “Let’s Pretend” ).  Although the paper was written to solve the education crisis in America, I think there is enormous value in taking the fundamental methodology of this paper into boardrooms and offices as well.  If we pretend we can become … better learners, better leaders and better people.

Why improv?  Let’s keep performing our answer to this most important question.