Thinking On Your Feet-The Hidden Leadership Skill

As I’ve been pulled into more meetings and face-to-face interactions with our leadership team, I’ve noticed two things.

  1. Some of our leaders are very, very good at thinking on their feet.
  2. Me? Not so much.

Okay, I get that perspective is a big part of this discussion, but it’s really been interesting to observe some people taking on tough questions without flinching. Is it competency? Seniority? Age? Job function? What’s the secret?

If I had to say, it’s probably a good mix of all those, plus a dozen other intricate details (personality, familiarity with the group, etc.). So what’s a person to do if they are not very good at it to start with?

Lessons from improv

I did a little research to get some ideas on how to respond more naturally to those types of questions, and the “Yes, and…” tool is one that I’ve started implementing already.

“Yes, and” is a common tool in improv to help move the dialog along when there is uncertainty in the topic or a fast-flowing conversation. Here’s an example:

  • I really don’t like brussel sprouts. They are gross.
  • Yes, and I am not too fond of peas either.

Okay, so you get the basic idea, right? Take the original statement and push it along without having to come up with some massive brainpower to tackle the issue. Here’s an example that will hit close to home:

  • I think we should force our employees to work a set 8-5 schedule. It just makes sense.
  • Yes, and it does make sense to have our people working together to build teamwork. Maybe there’s another way we could focus on the team aspect without making everyone work specific hours.

So, what two things happened there?

Well, the first is you acknowledge and agree with the person’s statement on some level. A surefire way to get someone on the defensive is to start your response with “no” (thank you, How to Win Friends and Influence People!).

The second piece is the real idea you’re trying to promote. You spin it off from their idea, but you give them the credit and you also push the conversation in the direction you’d prefer to go.

Here’s another example, but I’m going to let you finish it yourself:

Your turn

If you’re new to a leadership position, or if you’re more of an introvert (like me), then this tip might be a valuable addition to your toolbox. Start practicing, and the next time you are faced with a hard question you’ll be able to answer it with ease!

Anyone else have a comment on the ability to think on your feet? I’d love to hear!

25 thoughts on “Thinking On Your Feet-The Hidden Leadership Skill

  1. Shanna

    Yes, because we have so many other initiatives to roll out in the upcoming year. I do think succession planning is important though so let’s revisit this again soon. (Ben – this took me over a minute to come up with so not sure I can do it off the cuff.)

  2. Hutto

    Yes, and lets revisit changing benefits at a later date too.

    It can’t have anything to do with Age! I’m going to vote competency and personality (maybe good looks too?) Because I happen to think well on my feet! (:

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