1. Section Editor(s): Raso, Rosanne MS, RN, NEA-BC

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Last year we talked about "Leadership Lessons from the Gym," concentrating on essential skills to create safe and healthy practice environments. Wouldn't you know, it happened again. This time, it was about dealing with the unexpected. How do you manage a weight class when the free weights are hopelessly locked up? Here's what the instructor did-she changed it up on the fly, made the class work just as hard, and we forgot there was ever a problem. In one word: improvisation. Suddenly the skill of dealing with the unexpected seemed like something important that we should all have in our toolboxes (or gym bags) as strong leaders.

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You can think of many scenarios: multiple, sudden staff leaves of absence; service recovery resources aren't available for a disgruntled patient and family; your unit-based council comes up with a wild idea for implementation; eight surveyors just walked in unannounced, targeting your service; all of your cardiac monitors just went blank; Ebola. None of these are impossible.


When you get thrown a curveball and there's no script (hallelujah) you're free to acknowledge the situation and use your best judgment to come up with solutions. Your leadership is needed and embraced when the rules are out the window. The reaction will most likely be cooperative and forgiving. "Thinking outside the box" becomes real, not theoretical.


The ability to execute without previous preparation seems counterintuitive to our extensive work with leadership development programs. Surprisingly, using improvisation as a learned or instinctive leadership skill is prevalent in the business literature. Its use is known to build trust, risk-taking, collaboration, innovation, change management, and more. So much for originally thinking that improvisation is only a skill to help you through a bad day!


The effects of improvisation are significant for yourself and your staff. You're promoting a culture of resilience when staying positive, thinking of creative solutions, and adapting using improvisation. It's hard to make a mistake in those circumstances. Yes, it's a bit risky. Taking responsibility means taking risk. The good news when dealing with the unexpected is that the consequences of your actions by definition are a win-win or, at the very least, a draw. It probably can't get worse.


When your direct reports are overwhelmed or over their heads, they want direction. Even if you're feeling the same way and out of your comfort zone, being open to crazy ideas and thinking on your feet can only yield positive results. It's an opportunity to show your resourcefulness and agility. Think of the beauty of musical improv or even the fun of comedic improv. It involves being in the moment, listening, and spontaneity within the framework of the situation. Your emotional intelligence skills are needed, too. You have to accept and understand what's happening to respond and take action. There's no wrong answer.


You have everything you need in and around you when you have to improvise, no matter what your level or scope of leadership. Your best will come out, which is a boon to your self-confidence. Dealing with the unexpected-whether in the gym, at home, or at work-isn't to be feared.



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