Bossy Pants - And no, This isn’t about your boss

Peg Breen: December 11, 20130 Comments

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 notstink, 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.  Merry Christmas to all!

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