Theatre improvisers have a mantra: make your partner look good. This philosophy sits at the core of strong ensemble work. Improv shows can very quickly fall apart if one performer is prepared to trample all over the other performers to get their own moment in the spotlight. This can fly in the face of instinct for many performers, who are often in it for the stage time, but the best improvisers serve the overall scene or show, not their own ego. And if that means staying out of a scene — or a whole show — so be it.
This is an incredibly value principle to live by when it comes to building buy-in.
No matter how good you might think your idea or initiative is, the only thing that matters when it comes to buy-in is how your audience feels.
They need to feel important, and that their opinion and ideas matter. Nothing will undermine this more than letting your own ego and desire to be ‘in the spotlight’ take over, which is a little like being taken to a karaoke bar by someone who clearly enjoys singing more than you do, only to find yourself dragged up on stage and forced to sing along with them. Urgh.
There’s a big difference between those who make others look good, and those who make themselves look good. At the heart of the distinction lies a willingness to be humble. Perhaps you recall the images of Pope Francis, crouched on his knees, washing the feet of twelve prisoners on the first Holy Thursday after his election? For a man who had just ascended to the highest position of authority in the Catholic Church, it was an act that said to the world, What’s status got to do with anything? This was a sublime embodiment of what it means to be humble.
Business Lessons From Howard Schultz
A great example of a leader who makes others look good is Howard Schultz, the CEO and chairman of Starbucks. Schultz emulates what is often termed servant leadership — a style of leadership that Schultz himself describes as ‘putting others first and leading from the heart’. As a highly successful businessman, presiding over a monolithic brand with an arguably plentiful pool of potential employees, Schultz could well have been the kind of CEO who chose to lead from the ivory tower. But, to the contrary, Schultz is known for listening to his employees and prioritising their needs. He makes others look good, and feel good. Which explains why his own staff give him a 91 per cent approval rating on US jobs website glassdoor.com.
So follow Schultz’s lead: choose to make others look good. And here’s all you have to do:
- Respect and acknowledge someone else’s effort and contributions.
- Give credit where credit’s due.
- Acknowledge their experience, expertise or status.
- Address them by their first name, make eye contact and smile.
- Express an interest in their point of view (‘I’d love to know what you think . . .’).
Or, to put it all far more simply, treat people the way you’d have them treat you.
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Written by: Simon Dowling. This is an extract from “Work with Me: How to get people to buy into your ideas“. An expert in making collaboration happen, Simon Dowling runs workshops, coaches leadership teams and speaks at conferences