Several years ago, the Organizational Development team where I worked was preparing for our annual leadership retreat. The Director, Lynda, came to me and said, “We want to use Improv at the retreat.”

The word “Improv” is short for Improvisational Theatre. It’s where two or three people start with an idea and keep adding new things as they go along. After hearing her idea, I gave her a blank stare—the one that says, “What?” Or maybe it was the “Are you crazy?” look.

She didn’t flinch, though, and gave me an explanation of why and how it would help. I said, “Yes,” and it turned out to be one of the most powerful exercises I’ve experienced at a retreat.

In Improv Theatre, there are two words you are taught to use regularly: yes” and “and. It starts when your improv partner begins a conversation with you that has nothing to do with reality. Regardless of how crazy their opening statement might be, you respond by saying, “Yes.”

Your “yes” means you have accepted what the other person has said to you. Whatever they said is now real, whether you like it or agree, and you need to respond to this new reality. The first person might say, “A pink unicorn walked into a bar and ordered a drink.” The second person can’t say, “Wait, pink unicorns don’t exist or don’t drink”, it would kill the scene. To keep it going the second person responds with the word “and,” followed by something that adds to the conversation, like “and the bartender said can I see your ID

The exercise that day at our retreat involved small groups of leaders. When the first person began with a statement, the next person was required to say, “Yes—and,” followed by a response.

Our leaders who liked developing new ideas or those who thrived with the unexpected loved the game. For the majority though, it was challenging because they instinctively responded to new ideas with a quick “No.” They were “risk averse” and used to saying, “That’s crazy,” or “It’ll never work.” I’ll admit that I have often resembled that leader myself. However, I’ve been lucky enough over the years to have staff members who pushed back—as hard as that might have been—to turn my “No” into a “Yes.”

Leaders (hint-hint), are you open to your team pushing back when you say, “No?”

What does this have to do with your career? Answer this question. How do you react to something totally unexpected which impacts your job? Maybe the leader you reported to, whom you loved working for, is transferred or leaves the organization. Or, what if your organization is acquired by another, and you never saw it coming. How do you respond? Would you grouse about getting a new replacement leader? Would you bemoan the good old days of the old organization?

It’s natural to do that. Yet the problem is, it won’t change reality. Your new leader is your leader, whether you like that person or not. Your new organization is where you now work.

You don’t control what happens to you, but you do control your response. You can respond with “yes – and” and do your best to embrace the new opportunity. It doesn’t mean you love what you’re experiencing, but there is an opportunity to learn and grow. Who knows, you might learn new skills from your new leader, or the new organization might provide growth opportunities that would have never happened in your old organization.

You won’t be the first either to be impacted by the unexpected. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery, then put in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. Amazingly, he accepted his reality and did the best he could. You might remember that he rose to become the second most powerful person in all of Egypt. He trusted God in the process.

Start by saying “yes” to your current reality, “and” then get ready to respond.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).

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