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Categories: Coaching, Leadership

The Power of Yes, And

Leaders often tell me that they want to open up the dialogue with their teams.  They crave an environment in which everyone feels empowered to speak up, share and innovate.  In short, they crave the power of Yes, And.

The Yes, And technique originated in improvisational theatre.  The best improv artists build on each other’s ideas in the moment, validating whatever has come before and adding to it.  The Yes, And technique provides a powerful mechanism for storytelling and positivity which explains its popularity in comedy (think Second City in Chicago) and in leadership.

This simple technique takes practice to perfect.  When people share ideas or contribute to brainstorming, leaders typically default to looking for reasons why the idea won’t work.  They play devil’s advocate and test each new idea by punching holes in it, and while ideas may ultimately need to be validated before being put into practice, looking for the pitfalls in an idea when it is in its infancy kills the mood.

This Yes, But response shuts down problem-solving. As human beings, when we hear the word “but” we equate it with “no” and that stops us cold.  We do not feel heard or valued. When a leader challenges a team member’s idea or tells them why it is flawed, that leader shuts down ideation and innovation.

On the other hand, if a leader says yes to someone’s idea and adds to it, that positive response opens up collaboration, creativity and problem solving.  More quality ideas result from the power of a Yes, And interaction. The environment becomes one of openness and positivity.

Second City executive and co-author of the book, Yes, And, Kelly Leonard told Fast Company, that in business “Fear does creep into the process; it’s the job of the boss to remind everybody that it’s okay to fail because when you say ‘Yes, And,’ you’re dealing with an abundance of possibilities. This creates an environment where ultimately you get the richest material.”

Sometimes leaders struggle with this concept because they don’t want to validate an idea they cannot fully agree with.  Rather than thinking of the yes part of Yes, And as a validation of the idea as a whole, think of it as a validation of some piece of the idea.  Look for the two percent you can agree with and add from there.

For example, what if a team member says “I think we should allow everyone to take Fridays off during the summer so we all have more time with our families,” and the leader does not agree that Fridays off is a winning idea. That leader might respond by saying “Yes, more time with family is a great idea, and perhaps we can shorten Friday hours for everyone by lengthening our hours Monday through Thursday during the summer.”  This response allows the leader to communicate agreement with the concept of more family time without validating the idea that the company should endorse Fridays off.

There are many ways that leaders encourage or discourage creativity and problem-solving with their language.  The power of the Yes, And approach provides an avenue for increasing dialogue, openness and innovation in teams.

I have heard from a number of leaders that this technique revolutionized their leadership.  Let me know how this technique serves you and your leadership.

To read more of Debby’s thoughts on leadership, please visit
Lonely at the Top – Combatting Leadership Loneliness
Do You Suffer from Imposter Syndrome?