“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

What is Affiliative Leadership?

Affiliative leaders view leadership as a shared process, that is, with many people getting along and working together to get things done. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to facilitate a fun, 4-hour Improvisation for Affiliative Leadership workshop for Lead2Goals with a group of wonderful leaders from various companies and organizations.

In such a short amount of time, the objective was to get this group to:

  • Understand what affiliative leaders do (e.g., they put people first, focus on empathy and relationship building, support collaborative working environments, create a climate of trust and respect, stay open to multiple perspectives, etc.);
  • Engage in improvisational exercises and techniques that enhance a few of those skills;
  • Make connections between improvisation, affiliative leadership, and organizational structures.


I tried to create a safe space for these folks to take risks and step outside of their comfort zone. I also built in time for debrief and reflection after each exercise. The debrief not only encouraged participants to make those important connections and articulate how they could apply these tools at work (and in life!). It also allowed me to think about applied impro and facilitation in new ways. At least three times during the workshop I found myself saying, “Wow! I never thought of that before”!  The number #1 rule in improvisation is to “Go for Agreement,” which means to accept and build on other’s offers and ideas.

Over the last two years, I have facilitated several dozen applied impro workshops for a variety of groups up and down the west coast. Every workshop builds on the one before. I always incorporate some of the ideas and suggestions offered by participants in previous workshops.

This recent group, in particular, gave me so much to think about. I want to thank them for jumping in wholeheartedly. They asked great questions and respecting other’s ideas. They allowed the space for shared control, sharing their personal stories, and remained present.

Getting out of the Comfort Zone-Where the Magic Happens.

Several of the exercises really asked them to go beyond what was comfortable. I was inspired by the courage they displayed. Applied improvisation is fun but it is not just about “having a good time”. It is about learning to function like a good improviser. That is, like someone who thrives in “the zone,” who willingly jumps into the discomfort and into the unknown. A good improviser is someone who works best in collaborative environments where control is shared and there is a give and take.

If an applied improvisation workshop is not a little uncomfortable, it is probably too safe. Learning new affiliative leadership skills requires flexing new muscles! It also requires practice and repetition so these muscles can, one day, habitually kick in and replace the old ones that may not be serving us well.

This workshop was the first step on a journey towards affiliative leadership. There’s still much more that can be honed through continued training. With that said, I think this group of spirited leaders is off to a really great start! And they’ve given me some fantastic ideas to bring to my next workshop!

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