MBA students learn leadership skills through improv

Posted on Wednesday, September 30, 2015
Rob Nickerson giving MBA students lessons in improv. / Photo courtesy of the Desautels Faculty of Management

Rob Nickerson giving MBA students lessons in improv. / Photo courtesy of the Desautels Faculty of Management

By McGill Reporter Staff

MBA students at the Desautels Faculty of Management are immersing themselves in the world of the performing arts as a way to improve leadership skills through a unique workshop in collaborative leadership which uses theatrical improvisation techniques.

Taught by actor, writer and producer Rob Nickerson, the workshop includes a series of progressively layered exercises in which students come to both intellectually understand and also experience the benefits of collaboration; seeing when it is present and also when it is absent.

“Companies’ single most under-utilized resource is the collective creative capacity of the people that already work for them,” says Nickerson. “Students are taught how to ‘get outside of their own heads’ and have the external focus necessary for creative problem solving.”

For the past 24 years, Nickerson has taught improv-based workshops to thousands of business professionals, doctors, lawyers, and C-suite executives to maximize their creative, collaborative potential. His long list of clients includes Microsoft, Blackberry, Nike, Manulife, AOL Canada, Walmart, Novartis, Rogers, Bell and Astra Zeneca.

“Rob’s workshop teaches skills that many organizations crave but don’t easily achieve,” says Professor Suzanne Gagnon, who organizes the workshop each year. “These are the hands-on strategies that show leaders how to collaborate – what is involved concretely in terms of their own actions and attitudes.”

In 2012, Gagnon co-authored a research paper with Nickerson entitled Learning to Lead, Unscripted: Developing Affiliative Leadership Through Improvisational Theatre.

“The skills of the improvisational actor include a nimble ability to listen, take in all stimuli, value developing ideas and solutions, and think inside the box,” notes Gagnon. “We are always constrained in so many ways. Rob teaches how to draw on the full potential of those with you to bring the best results and solutions.”

MBA student Chiren Shah felt that the workshop was among his most memorable learning experiences in the program: “It is a unique way of learning collaboration and will stay with us for a long, long time. We were laughing the whole way through.”





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