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High status vs low status - what you learn on the improv stage is valuable in business life.I’m a rookie when it comes to improv theatre. Even as a rookie, though, I have already learned a ton. You might be surprised how much of it translates into how I coach and lead. I’ve written before about how the improvised leader is better than you think. In that post, I was focussed on an improv basic called the “rule of agreement” where we focus on saying “yes/and” so we can create together in the moment.

What is status? In different circumstances or different times, you will feel more or less powerful, more or less confident, more or less in control. But ultimately how you feel is private knowledge. Only you can know for certain how powerful or confident you are feeling. But it is also true that we make guesses all the time about how other people might be feeling, and those guesses are often right (just not 100 percent of the time). Status can be thought of as anything you would use to base such a guess on. This time I am focussed on status. High status and low status.

Leaders have status thru the offices they hold, their titles and their awards. The status I mean here though is independent of the social (leadership) status one has. Keith Johnstone, theatre director, playwright and pioneer of theatre sports, describes status as something one does, independent of the social status one has. What does this mean?

At improv class, we did some fun experiments on status. We were asked first to play with low status behaviours. We created improv scenes during which we made sure to touch our face, twirl our hair, have slouchy posture and mumble. Doing these actions on purpose had me feeling like a bumbling idiot. I was giggly and lacking in confidence. It was fun, to be sure, but certainly not very powerful. On the other hand, experimenting with high status behaviours like standing up straight and moving my head very little while making direct eye contact had me feeling in command. It was incredible to witness how different I felt simply by embodying different postures and hand gestures.

Deborah Frances-White is a comedian who regularly delivers business seminars on charisma, diversity and inclusion. In her not to be missed Ted Talk, she shows us several examples of how high and low status behaviours have a huge impact on us and our audience.

So if you’re a leader with a great title, why do you care about the “doing of status”? I would offer that if you don’t care about it, you’ll be unconsciously subject to tiny mannerisms like touching your face too often that a) erode your own confidence without your realizing it and b) erode your people’s confidence in you.

In this fast-moving and complex world, do you really want rubbing your chin to get in the way of you leading effectively?

What gets measured gets managed/done/improved. This business adage has been burned into the psyche of all business people worth their salt. There is a lot of truth to the saying. As business people, we are very comfortable measuring our performance in sales and production. We’re sophisticated enough to measure our return on investment (ROI) on marketing spends. We regularly measure employee engagement. Somehow, though, we don’t think to measure leadership effectiveness.  And sadly, too often we don’t think to invest in it either, despite it being one of the most effective levers we have to drive business growth.

Are you someone who thinks that leadership is too squishy (highly technical term) to measure?

That may have been the case years ago when we relied on self-reported changes or anecdotal feedback.  These days, we need to measure leadership effectiveness because the measurement itself drives the right behaviours. Having a baseline and measuring change in leadership effectiveness can be a total game changer for a business.

For our money, a reliable and validated 360˚ survey dedicated to leadership development, is the investment to make.  We use the Leadership Circle Profile™, and find it one of the major contributors to break-through success with our clients. In our leadership development programs, every leader undergoes a 360. The profile lays bare a leader’s gifts and deficiencies with solid data and qualitative feedback that is hard to deny.  The data comes from the leader’s bosses, peers, direct reports and others. It is then normed against a very large database of other profiles so that leaders can see how they measure up. Leaders get a rare glimpse into how they “show up” through the lens of those they lead.  This is a true gift.

Let’s look at some real-world clients to better understand. We currently work with an entire senior team. They are in a period of very fast growth and increasing complexity in their business. We have met together over the course of a year, and each leader also receives 1:1 coaching.

One leader has long seen him/herself as someone who got results and moved the business forward with energy and drive and technical know-how. The perception was accurate to an extent.  The 360 revealed that the business results came at the cost of people feeling talked at, run over and sometimes railroaded. We credit this leader for not assuming the fetal position in the face of the feedback! S/he had the mental toughness to accept the data as true and an open-mindedness and curiosity great enough to plot a new course and commit to practicing a new way of leading for results. This leader has just completed a targeted leadership development plan and identified a goal of becoming a more collaborative leader. To do this, s/he will start delegating tasks more fully, and stop interrupting and talking over people.  This simple, yet challenging plan, would not have been possible without the insights gleaned from the 360 data.

The next leader is the polar opposite. This leader felt s/he achieved good business results because of excellent relationships with people.  Instead, the emerging story from the survey was one of playing not-to-lose and avoiding conflict. The blind spot for this leader was how much their non-confrontational leadership style hindered their ability to achieve business results. Over time, reflection, and some coaching, this leader went from ramping up his/her own delusions to facing the reality of how s/he were perceived.  This leader has set a goal to clearly assert ideas even when it is uncomfortable to do so.  S/he will practice asserting thoughts and feelings in real time. S/he will also work on reducing second-guessing and self-doubt.

With this group, we are now embarking on the next phase of measurement called Pulse™. Each leader has selected a group of people to form his/her Accountability Circle. The Circle knows the leader’s developmental goal and his/her start and stop behavior goals.  Every few months, we’ll send a very short survey to the Accountability Circle to take the pulse of how s/he are growing as leaders. These measurements along the way are like quarterly sales reports. They offer leaders a nearly real-time assessment of how well they are doing against their goals.

Both client stories illustrate how accurate measurement of leadership effectiveness offers deep insight to drive effective leadership behaviours.  Leadership measurement can be as rigorous as measuring sales results, production efficiencies or marketing ROI. Don’t forget: What gets measured, gets improved. Leadership effectiveness is directly correlated to business results (and yes, we’ll write a future post with more on that subject).

Can you really afford not to measure leadership effectiveness well?


Tim Edris of Emerging Leaders Institute and Lisa Chandler of Chandler Coaches are leadership development consultants/coaches whose companies collaborate to improve leadership effectiveness which drives business results.

Leadership Development in the Trenches is a series dedicated to examples of leadership actions that grow business effectiveness. You can read the previous post, Risking Your Identity to Grow, here.

My colleague Tim Edris and I have the privilege of coaching a senior leadership team through a year-long program called Leader to Leader™ to increase their individual and collective leadership effectiveness. We know empirically that even small increases in overall leadership effectiveness can have a significant positive impact on the business.

These Leaders are Willing to Put Their Identity on the Line if it Means They’ll Grow

Many leaders say they want to be more effective. This group means it. Not only are they investing a significant amount of money and time, they are putting their very identity on the line for the sake of leadership growth.

As developmental thought leader Robert Kegan puts it, “We spend a lot of our time (at work) doing a second full-time job that no one is paying us to do: keeping our identity and self-esteem intact”. As leaders, once we become aware of this, we can challenge ourselves to drop the job of protecting our identity so we can focus our full energy on growing our people and the business.

So what does this getting real actually look like in a Leader to Leader™ (L2L) program? Repeatedly pushing one’s self outside their comfort zone with a heavy dose of candid feedback from peers.

At our most recent session, one 20-year veteran of the business and a valued technical contributor, set the tone for the peer coaching session by admitting to the entire senior team that he lacked clarity in his role on the org chart with the accelerated growth of the company. He also told the group that he had a tendency toward being passive about his own career path. By sharing this, he challenged himself to take charge of his own leadership path. His admission cut through all the clutter and was grounded in a bedrock of honesty. His peers gained insight into his struggle and realized they also needed to be 100 percent responsible in helping him gain clarity and a defined role.

Another leader, newer to the team, had the group laughing when he shared that he had put a ton of energy into not being perceived as an egotistical ass when he had first joined the company and that sadly, the very thing he had tried to avoid happened anyway! His 360° feedback, while very strong in some areas, showed him that his drive, ambition and need to be right were impeding his effectiveness as a leader. Most leaders don’t like to reveal their foibles. This leader risked his safety in order to be authentic with his colleagues. He owned his failure to lead as effectively as he could and he opened himself to support from his colleagues going forward.

As you can see from these examples, leaders who want to grow:
a) reveal themselves honestly,
b) challenge themselves to take personal risks to create outcomes that matter, and
c) open themselves up to A LOT of feedback.

You can also see that we’re really proud of this group. This work is difficult after all (and life-long). One leader’s final comment went along the lines of “this is the most vulnerable I have felt in a very long time”. A living example of Pain + Reflection = Progress. More to come!

Just Add Vulnerability

I have a love-hate relationship with math (probably because I am getting worse at it with each passing minute). I do love word formulas, though. They are nice and sticky, as in they are easy to remember and employ. Even my most conflict-averse clients have had success using this structure. Recently a client mustered up… Read the full post here

Feelings: Entertain Them All

The Guest House This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.  A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest… Read the full post here

Three Cheers for Scrooge

Ebenezer Scrooge (a well known character in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol--Summary here) was a miserable and miserly business owner who seemingly hated Christmas and people.  He’s known for his Bah! Humbug! response to his nephew’s Merry Christmas. In the novel, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited in his dreams by his deceased partner Jacob Marley.  Marley’s ghost… Read the full post here

Leaders: Step Into Your Truth

Fact: Many of the leaders I coach are scared to say what they really think to their people. They withhold facts¹: One of my direct reports is interviewing elsewhere. They withhold thoughts and opinions: I don’t support expanding into the US market right now. They withhold feelings: I feel anger that I was not consulted… Read the full post here

Dear Leader: Where Are You?

Images and metaphor help us tell great stories. They help us explain concepts that we struggle to explain with words alone.   The next 3 minutes could change the way you see the world. Please watch. Now tell me, dear leader…where are you? If your answer is “below the line”, take heart.   Simply notice… Read the full post here

Lean on Me: Partnering to Help Leaders Keep Pace

This week, my writing colleague Louise Campbell interviewed my coaching colleague, Tim Edris of the Emerging Leaders Institute, to get his view on leadership and how it is evolving.   “What got you here won’t get you there,” was coined by business leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith to underscore how leaders need to regularly update the… Read the full post here

Signaling a Lane Change

You’re driving on a fast highway and a car swerves into your lane without any notice.  Your reaction might range from a gentle head shake (tsk, tsk) to jamming on the brakes to ending up in a car crash if you don’t have enough time to react. Signaling a lane change is the law on… Read the full post here

Feedback: A Formula to Face and Embrace

Is feedback important?  We’d all say a resounding, “Yes!” Yet how many of us ever ask for feedback on our leadership? Or ask what’s expected of us, both the spoken and unspoken? And how many of us make giving/getting feedback part of our everyday? Feedback is merely information that helps us know whether we are… Read the full post here

A Business-run Family

In my business, our direction and priorities for the next year are quite clear. We know what we need to do to execute on our plan and commitments.  And we don’t know what we don’t know so we go forward with openness to learning as we go. I find myself longing for a similar framework… Read the full post here

Mapping a Healthier World

Last Monday, I celebrated my 47th birthday.  As the day approached, I thought of all that has gone right for me over the past year.  I intended to write a post about how I pushed myself to grow and how that has shown up in my business, my relationships and my life overall. I planned… Read the full post here