If you can handle yourself on stage at the improv, will you be a good manager?
The issue was in the spotlight at a panel discussion on the role of arts in management education. The premise: Art forms — such as improvisation, acting and music — create a synergy where left (rational, analytical) and right (creative, intuitive) brain functions come together.
“A fundamental principle of acting is empathy: finding a connection with a character, adopting the character’s perspective, understanding their fears and motivations and struggles and needs,” says Stephanie Clayman, actor and adjunct lecturer in English and media studies at Bentley. “It’s the same way a good manager will connect with employees.”
Clayman joined four other panelists: campus colleagues Barry Camson, adjunct professor of management; Aaron Nurick, professor of management; and Adam Payne, assistant director of student activities; along with Kathy Lubar, founding partner at the Ariel Group theater-based leadership training company. Event sponsors were Bentley’s Management Department, Alliance for Ethics and Social Responsibility, and Valente Center for the Arts and Sciences.
Emotional High Notes
For more than a decade, Nurick has used music as a conduit for emotional expression among students in his honors management seminar. “Emotions are at the heart of how people interact with each other, because what you feel is released in relationships.”
During an open rehearsal by a Boston-area quartet, students learned how musicians work through a piece and use nonverbal cues to communicate with each other. “They saw these interactions up close and noticed how they shape a performance.”
Listening to thrash metal band Slayer — whose lyrics are often incomprehensible — at first raised eyebrows in Barry Camson’s course Interpersonal Relations in Management. Then he explained the songs’ role in helping troops in Iraq prepare for maneuvers.
“Listening to radically unfamiliar music challenges the brain to make sense of something that is strange,” says Camson, drawing a parallel to what happens when we encounter knowledge or people from another culture. “Once the music was put into context, students understood and appreciated it, even though they may not have been crazy about the sound.”
Lessons from a Streetcar
"Many companies recognize the interplay of arts and business," says Ariel’s Kathy Lubar. “We bring acting skills and dramatic leadership development to the business world, and they have really embraced this experiential work.”
Through acting, she helps clients transform their thinking. One example: a CEO who drew on his stage presence as the loud, rough-and-tumble Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire to become a more confident public speaker.
"This is not to suggest that good leaders are inauthentic or 'putting on an act,'" says Lubar. "The goals are to be present, expressive and self-aware, and reach out to others."
Clayman agrees. In the classroom, she uses the classic improv technique of “yes and” to teach business negotiation.
“Saying ‘yes’ acknowledges the other person’s view and validates it. Following up with ‘and’ gives you a chance to add your perspective,” she explains. “Students test this method during group projects or hanging out with friends. It’s amazing how they’re able to guide conversations and move things forward.”
Panel member Adam Payne directs on-campus arts programming with one goal in mind. “I use live performances such as plays, lectures and concerts to teach people how to think differently. There’s a strong connection between the arts and analytical thinking, and I want people to better understand that. In the end, you will be a more well-rounded person and help make the world a better place.”