Category Archives: Leadership

Improvisation theatre – do you know what it is? An interview with Dave Bourn

We often find ourselves thinking ahead about the future. Improv theatre is an activity where you have to be in the moment, you never know what will happen next. You have to work as a team and help the people you are playing the improv games with. I have done some classes with Dave Bourn in the past (great fun) and I met him again a couple of weeks ago and I thought it would be good to publish an interview with him for my blog.

For you who are curious there is an Impro festival in London next week, check out the website: And I love to go to Comedy Store in London on Wedneday and Sunday’s, great Impro Stand-up shows.


Dave Bourn

How long have you been doing improv?
The straightforward answer is I started impro classes in the 90s however we are all improvising every day of our lives from birth.

By the way – I usually shorten “improvisation” to “Impro” (the name of Keith Johnstone’s book) but lots of people say “improv”.

Why did you start with improv?
Personally, I started as an attempt to deal with anxiety.  I’d had a little therapy to help it (and some was good, some was AWFUL) but I wanted to do something more practical. The therapy was often sitting in a room intellectualizing – and I generally spent too much time thinking about things already, so I wanted to do something to get me out of my head/worries – and impro was a perfect fit for me. Scary but also challenging and fun.

How do you think you can use improvisation as a tool in the corporate world?
I have never encountered a better tool for team building and making connections amongst people. Take a group of strangers in the morning and after a days impro session they will be talking like old friends.  Improvisation is also great for improving presentations which are in essence a performance. Impro helps all kinds of communication skills (focused listening etc) and a foundation of improvisational skills will help any kind of group creativity.

Adults learn better when being relaxed and you use humour. What kind of feedback and reactions do you get when you finished a day of improv training?

Being relaxed is the best state to do anything. You should be alert and focused but also relaxed and certainly not stressed. Laughter releases all sorts of tension. At Sprout Ideas we usually teach in pairs and when we start our sessions our light hearted banter helps set the agenda.

We try to give the impression we’re focused and know what we’re doing, but we’re gonna have a laugh along the way too. People are often quite nervous at the beginning of a class so the sooner they are laughing the sooner they are ready to start taking on board the skills we are going to show them. We’re lucky to be teaching something fun but that is also very useful. The feedback we get usually reflects these two things – “I learnt a lot, and I had fun”.

Is improvisation as a training tool something new? Or has it been used for decades?
The form of impro we base our work on was developed by Keith Johnstone in the 50s and 60s. More and more organizations are using and developing the principles he crystallized. His work on Status and the principle of saying “yes and ..” go a long long way.

When you are training improv do you become a better story teller? If yes, do you have any idea how?
Whether you are writing a novel, or telling a friend a bit of gossip, we can all tell stories and enjoy doing it. (No one loves a gossip more than me.)

A story is simply a connected series of events.  The brain loves to create meaning from everything and the more you improvise the better you become at noticing connections and meaning in the scenes you create – it’s pretty instinctive.

Also the ability to creative a narrative lends weight to any message. For example to be topical – You may notice many politicians and spokespeople trying to create a narrative from the London riots to support their own message. They’ll emphasise the events that support their message to create their own story and ignore the events that don’t. The reality is there are probably many little narratives rather than one overriding one.

The ability to create stories is another powerful tool in the corporate world because stories make a bigger impression in the mind.

What is most important to think about when doing improv?
At the “Intro to Impro” – our beginners weekend class we hope people leave with the following messages

1 – Go with the first idea. Everyone’s ideas are valuable and equal.

2 – Once you have your idea, say “yes .. and” build upon it (The words “no” and “but” are very destructive … and so easy to say ☺)

3 – Be in the moment – if your mind is worrying about the future or dwelling in the past you won’t be fully able to deal with the present

4 – Don’t fear failure – failure is okay and can be fun (some impro games are designed to make success impossible)

Can anyone do improvisation?
Yes absolutely anyone! I suffered from massive anxiety so I should know. You name an occupation and we have had them come and do a weekend with us. From doctors, to bankers, to secretaries, to teachers, to counsellors, to beauticians etc. And you can start at any age. Most people who come to our weekends tend to be between the ages of 25 and 55 but we’ve have people from 18 to people in their 70s.

Do you have any top tips for people who might find improv and speaking in front of a small audience daunting and frightening?

The place where you need to be when improvising or public speaking (or doing anything at all actually) is “in the moment”.

Look around for a friendly class and go practice – I tried lots of classes when I started and some were more welcoming than others so go and try a few, and meet a tutor you can connect with.

Thank you Dave Bourn for being such an inspiring person!

Read more about Sprout Ideas here!



Leave a Comment

No, I am not a leader, I just enable others to do stuff

A while ago I was at a social event and started to talk to a friend about leadership and what it is. It was quite late and we discussed what happened when she started to helm the boat where she works. Then she says: “But, I am not a leader…, I am just the catalyst helping other people to perform better, I don’t actually do anything”

Hm, a great leader is sitting next to me saying that the effect she has on people is not leadership and that she is not a leader. We continued our discussion for a while, and one point I made about what a leader does was:

“A leader is someone who is strengthening others and making the people they meet believe in themselves”.

Sometimes when things are getting very complicated and messy a bit of hope is what will save us from sinking the boat. So, being the catalyst releasing the potential in others is a pretty crucial ability.

I hope my friend gets used to put the description ‘leader’ in front of her name, because that is what she is. It might take a while for her to dare to say it, but I am sure when she looks back in a few years time she will call what she did leadership.

Sunny greetings to all of you!

Leave a Comment

A little bit like Marmite….

Leadership is complicated. Who defines a leader? Where does leadership come from? What is leadership? Big questions and there are no straight forward answers. There are a few things that will happen when you lead in big organisations. The more senior job you get, the more decisions you’ll need to make, and you will also work on massive and complex tasks. On top of this there will be many conflicts to handle. The people you have around you are sharp and they probably also want some of your power.

I have had the chance to try out my own leadership in JCI, both as Local President for JCI London and as National Marketing/Website Director. It is not always pleasant to be a leader; you deal with criticism, resistance, and people who dislike you for what you do or how you do it. You, as a leader in JCI and working with volunteers, have to try with all your energy to shape an environment that will give the results that the organisation aims to reach. I do believe that most leaders are a bit like Marmite: Some people will love you, others will hate you.

In JCI there will always be some objectives that are the same: membership growth, get more active members, improve the knowledge transfer and communication. I know that JCI London has worked out very good processes for these objectives. The chamber now has more than 150 members, loads of active members and the knowledge transfer between the presidents and council has worked out well. One factor I think that is key to the success in JCI London is that they don’t let conflicts grow and if there is a conflict you deal with it – you don’t give it energy to grow.

JCI has many leaders around the world, and there are some people who I truly admire: the JCI National Presidents. They commit to take on a massive and complex leadership task for one year.

I had a conversation with two past national presidents about leadership and what it means to them.

Sally-Anne Greenfield, Chief Executive, Leeds Community Foundation. She was JCI UK National President 2004.

What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is about setting a direction to achieve an end goal and then inspiring or influencing people to follow the direction you have outlined. What is particularly interesting in a JCI UK situation (and in other voluntary sector organisations too) is that leadership is also about leading beyond authority i.e. although you may have a leadership role as President or project leader, you will only gain results by encouraging and inspiring others to follow as opposed to compelling them. In other situations i.e. at work, they have more of a duty to follow you as a recognised leader given your position.

Where does leadership start?
With yourself. It is not easy being a leader – having a goal, setting a clear direction, remaining committed to the end goal and, at the same time, inspiring others to follow you too. It needs a certain mindset and, above all, commitment and passion. How many great leaders do you know who don’t have a great vision, a clear path to achieve the goal and a burning passion that carries you along with them?

Who can become a leader?
Becoming a good leader requires a combination of attitude and aptitude. To be a leader you need certain traits and characteristics as well as having a combination of skills. Arguably anyone can learn to develop these but it is the way that they are combined together to implement the plan / set the direction that creates a true leader.  Not everyone can do that, nor is it good for everyone to be a leader or the world would come to a halt: you always need leaders and followers/team members. There is also nothing wrong with not wanting to be a leader; it is not for everyone.

Do we need more leaders in the world?
I think we need more “good” leaders in the world who have an understanding of the impact of their words and actions and a commitment towards creating a more just society.

Who is your favourite leader?
Martin Luther King

What is it you like about this person?
He stood up for something he felt passionate about: the abusive treatment of fellow countrymen and women, just because of the colour of his skin.  He was an amazing orator with a passion that was hard to resist.  He knew that what he was doing was very dangerous and, in the end, he paid for his beliefs with his own life, but has gone on to have an incredible impact for many years after his death.

Jonathan Stone, Commercial Director, Cygnum Engineered Timber Structures. He was JCI UK National President 2006.

What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership to me is about giving people the practical skills, confidence and opportunity to lead and become leaders in their own right. Leaders are self-empowered, but equally empower people to realise their full potential while being humble enough to realise that it is the members of ‘the team’ that ultimate chose whether to be led and also see you as ‘their’ leader.

Where does leadership start?
Leadership is integral and engendered within human personality and society. Leadership is a constant throughout life and everyone at some stage leads and indeed follows others.

Who can become a leader?
Anyone and indeed everyone does lead at some points in their lives. Great leaders mould other great leaders but also realise that not everyone wants to lead, all of the time. Some people are happy with leading occasionally or in certain areas of their lives, but not others. Great leaders give opportunities to lead, but realise when people would rather allow others to lead.

Do we need more leaders in the world?
We still live in a world where some leaders, who have attained great power through outstanding leadership, become corrupted and warped by the power they have been allowed to gain initially. Great leaders realise that true self-satisfaction in leadership comes from developing others to lead and not denying them the opportunity to do the same or restricting democratic freedoms. We need more ethical and democratic leaders who respect this fact and that totally respect that leadership is an honour and privilege, and not a right!

Who is your favourite leader?
Like most people, I admire many ‘famous’ past and present world leaders and leaders within industry and commerce. However, my ‘favourite’ leaders are people who I have allowed to lead me personally, and equally people who I have had the privilege to lead who I feel have realised their own leadership potential. The true satisfaction of leadership for me is giving others the opportunity, so anyone I have helped, even in small part, to do just this is my favourite leader.

What is it you like about this person?
That they have touched my life and hopefully, I have touched theirs!


Sofie Sandell is the author of the book ‘Digital Leadership – How Creativity in Business Can Propel Your Brand and Boost Your Results’. 

You can download Sofie Sandell’s tips on how to become a leader online and we will let you know when the book is out. Just sign up to Sofie’s newsletter here:

Leave a Comment

11 top tips for ‘becoming a crap leader’

Here are my top tips if you would like to keep control over the people you work with, it’ll make them feel out of balance and insecure. By doing this you will make sure you keep down profits, that people never bring forward their talents and they will never talk about their great ideas.

1. Don’t say hi or good morning when you meet a colleague.

2. Treat people differently. It is very efficient to lick people’s asses higher up the food chain and be arrogant to others who are not that important.

3. Humiliate people in front of others, great if you would like to get them out of balance. (It takes a lot of energy to recover from this so do this on a regular basis.)

4. Create a clique of peers and don’t let any new people in.

5. Be angry when no one understands your organisation’s vision. Call them morons and say that even school kids would get it!!!

6. Backstab people. Spread at least one rumour per week. Spend one hour per day gossiping about other people’s problems.

7. Never have regular team meetings. If you have meetings it is a risk that people will start thinking and discussing ideas…

8. Never read any inspiring leadership books.

9. If you watch TV and there is a topic about leadership or psychology you have to change the channel immediately. Only watch programs like Big Brother.

10. Set up a bunch of rules that you expect the people you manage to follow. Break them all yourself.

11. One final top tip. It is very efficient to leave insulting messages on your colleagues’ desk. You should do that when there is nobody left in the office so this is the first thing they see in the morning.

Good luck, keep the energy low and you’ll be in control!

Leave a Comment

Ignore all rules…

I just got back from a great concert with the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). It was a fantastic event, and I got very inspired by the cover photo of the concert program. It features two guys who are talking to each other and one of them is wearing a t-shirt that says “ignore rules…” I just loved it.

I sort have had that as a motto when I’ve been working and doing things, I use to think “break all the rules” for myslef. Sometimes I have ended up in deep shit for a bit when doing this…. but then it is has always been a solution in the end. The perfect solution for everyone who was concerned. (You develop a thicker skin after a few rule breaking moments…)

To be able to explore new areas you have to get rid of the seatbelt that is holding you back, ignore negative comments and explore the stretch zone every now and then. And you have to be a bit brave to ignore rules, see new opportunities and possibilities. To be negative is easy. To be positive takes more energy.

To make the LSO so successful the leaders probably let the artists explore the stretch zone every day… and that is what’s leading to top notch performance. It would be great to hear what the conductor of today’s concert Andre Previn has to say about leadership and ignoring rules.

I really have to go to bed now, up early tomorrow, but before that: “I promise to ignore all stupid, meaningless, conservative rules as much as I can for the rest of the year.”

Good night!!!

Leave a Comment

Follow and lead. Lead and follow. Or both at the same time?

I have read the quote “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader” many times. Aristotle said this thousands of years ago.

What does this really mean? I have done my own interpretation of the quote.

We all have to learn new things every day and even if you are the
“super-top-leader” you have to sit down and learn from others all the
time. Great leaders are humble and open to learn new insights. That
keep them going and it keep them ahead of everyone else. This is why
you have to follow others. Let other people who know their stuff teach
you new skills and give you new insights.

Another aspect is what I heard several years ago by a military. ‘The
troop has to know what to do even if its leader is dead’. This means
that you have to know what to do in the next step and what was in the
plan even if no-one will give you an order. The leader has the make
sure that you have the right training to be able to continue working
towards the goal without micro-instructions.

I also believe that you have to follow great leaders to be able to
learn how to lead. Study what they do and how it works. Your
leadership abilities expand every time you have the chance to work
with other leaders. Learn from what they have done, what worked and
then when you have the chance to lead you have a better feeling what
will work for you in different situations.

If you look around you’ll see some great people, use them! Learn from
them. You still have a lot to learn whatever age you are. To be
surrounded by talented people is a gift, they will make sure you
develop yourself.

Follow others and you will expand your own abilities to become a better leader!

Have a nice weekend folks,


Leave a Comment

Tyrants not welcome here

Over lunch today I had an interesting discussion with three colleagues about different leadership styles. We ended up talking about bad and rude leaders.

We have all met them, the tyrants… People in leadership positions who are pestering the people they work with by being rude, ruthless and arrogant, often driven by control, managing others mainly by fear and distrust…You know you work with a tyrant when you feel humiliated all the time. They often treat you as a naughty child. You feel guilty. You will have a feeling that there is no “hope” left.

Today 2010 tyrant leadership is really out of fashion and all sensible people know that this doesn’t work.

We don’t want to work with tyrants. We want to work with nice people who are empowering us to do our work better! Tyrants are disengaging the rest of the staff – this costs money for organizations – people are unwillingly underperforming, people stop being creative plus that’s it’s generating a weird atmosphere.

This is not good for anyone.

We all want to feel that we are contributing to a higher purpose at work. We all want to feel that we are doing something important! And feel that we are included in the group.

One tyrant on the top can destroy peoples’ willingness to contribute. It only takes one tyrant to create a lot of crap.

Is the solution to get rid of the tyrant?

Kick them out!
In the long term it is better for everyone, and the tyrant may learn a lesson?
Put a sign on your door saying:
“Tyrants not welcome”

Read more about tyrants in this article

“Tyrants may delegate some tasks, but never power. They impose rules and procedures on others and are unprincipled with themselves.

Their trademark is secrecy, rumors, lies, manipulation, and contradiction. Highly defensive, they protect their territory jealously and desire to expand.

They do not manage talents, but create fuzzy boundaries and introduce change through the insecurity of others, unsettling people. Persons of power are divisive.

They manage by fear and distrust. Cohesion is impossible in their teams; cliques and clans are the norm. Shareholders pay for their infamy”

Leave a Comment

Who is an expert?

I often call people I meet who seem to know a lot about a specific area an “expert”.

Many of them say: “No, don’t call me an expert…”

I then ask: “Why not?” And I start thinking: “You are pretty good at what you are doing, is it then dangerous to be called an expert? Will anyone punish you if you call yourself an expert? Or are you not allowing yourself to be the expert? Shall I call you: Authority? Specialist? Whiz? Knowledgeable person?“

An expert for me is a person who can make a critical decision quickly about a problem.

  • they can give good advice in the moment you need it
  • they have done many mistakes in a very narrow area
  • they can recommend you where you shall go to search for more information
  • they have historical knowledge about the subject
  • they can also see what the future says, they see what’s around the corner.

What all experts have in common is their passion for the topic whatever that might be: butterflies, mixing music, public speaking, sailing etc.

Another thing is that they know so much about their topic so many answers you’ll get from them are not black or white. They will give you their point of view and also tell you about other possibilities.

Hm, I think I will continue to call experts expert, I like doing that and you shall take it as a compliment when I do it.

Leave a Comment

Heads up or heads down? How are you as a leader in a critical moment?

Often it is tempting to just keep your mouth shut and keep on “doing your job” when there is a conflict or disagreement. When there is change and turbulence around us it feels safe to pretend as nothing is going on. Do you recognize this scenario? Have you done it? Or people in your organization?

What leaders do in this situation is to stick their neck out. They challenge the decisions and want to understand how it will influence the future.

Many people who are climbing the career ladder are waiting to say what they think until they reach the top. You know that “moment” when you are allowed to do it. Well it does not work like that, people on the top who challenge what is going on around them has done this on many occasions in their career. They started to do this early. And you need to do this to be able to be strong on the top. The higher you climb the more conflicts, change and turbulence you need to be able to handle.

Another thing that is important to indentify is that there are not that many people reaching the top. And we need all people in an organization to influence the decisions. Keeping quite will not help the organization to move forward.

To gain respect you have to demonstrate that the people around you can count on you in though times. That you will stand up for yourself and what you believe in.

Leadership is about looking for better solutions for the people around you. Continual improvement can only happen when leaders show the way and dare to take a conflict.

To change the world around us we need to be strong in our gut feelings. Our intuition will tell us what is right. We have to have the courage to take a conflict. We all need to improve our communications skills. And we have to work with our own values that is giving us direction in our lives every day .

Some thoughts for you. Do you dare to:

  • Take the risk of being wrong?
  • Be unpopular? (maybe just for short period)
  • Make a difference for the future?
  • Follow your gut feeling?



Leave a Comment

Who’s the leader? Me, you or someone else?

Who’s responsibility is it to lead? To create change? To create wealth? Mine, yours or someone else’s….

One of my interests is to dig into the secrets of leadership. What is it that works? When are people engaged? What are our prejudices about leadership? Is it really my business? “You do it and I’ll follow you”, or..?
My view is very much that leadership is for everyone. It is for businesses, politicians, sport clubs, universities, schools and communities. It is for you. Everyone can make a difference. We have leaders everywhere and it has nothing to do with titles. More and more people have to create power and influence others without any formal authority.

I listened to a very interesting talk by Professor Preston Bottger a few days ago. He once asked a group of kids what leaders do, they said two things: “Leaders do things first” and “Leaders have followers”

All very true according to me.

Other things that leaders have in common are:
  • Leaders see around the corner
  • Leaders get things right
  • Leaders are better than the average.

I used to say that you have to develop your own leadership style to make the most of your impact. I wrote some tips for leadership in JCI a while ago, and the 4th tip is “Make the most of your character”.  Nobody will follow you if you don’t do your work with integrity and honesty. I think this is pretty universal.

How do we create leaders today?
This is a pretty crucial question. If society is not creating good leaders for the future, where will we end up? If you look into how leadership/management development works in most companies today you are moving on to a manager position to be able to get a pay raise. But many of the people doing this are not interested or equipped to lead others. So most companies have middle managers in these positions because of lack of structure to get people to move up the career ladder. Is this really creative in the 21st century?

Professor Preston Booger said: “Too many people are obsessed by a pointless question: are leaders born, or are they developed? The answer is irrelevant. The truth is, you do not know what you are born with until you try very hard to express it.”

This means that you have to start pushing yourself into things where you have a passion. You should create your own style and learn how to connect with the people around you. How you do it is up to you, but you have to connect. I once had a manager who didn’t even say good morning… hm, how can you connect then? Didn’t he know that it is basic good manner to say good morning? Or was he just too important to say hi… Well, his leadership was not very efficient and he had huge problems getting the team engaged. Being able to connect is included in leadership lesson 1 a) Connect.

Having a really bad boss make you appreciate the good boss/leaders more. So say thank you to these asshole you’ve met in your life. You need them to see the full scale of what is good and bad.

Why do we need leaders?

Ultimately we need leaders to create wealth, we need strong leadership to help people to understand that the world around us can change, that there is hope. It sounds very deep but this is why we exist, to create something that is better. It can be everything from democracy in a country that does not have it or starting a new IT-project that will improve the work flow in a company. In art, entertainment and science the person who is the leader it the “blue monkey” doing something differently. A few years later everybody is doing the same. Leaders give us hope, they make us believe that we can create something better.

What good leaders do:
  • they show the way and they get the vision-thing right
  • they get people engaged
  • they break the pattern of how things are done
  • they inspire us
  • they have credibility
  • they show guts
  • they see new possibilities
  • they make us trust them
  • and we just love to love them.

What good leaders have in common is that they understand that they have to improve themselves all the time. Life is a continual development project and you are included in that. The world move on and you have to follow the flow.

Leadership in big organisations
When you are a leader in a big organisation you can count with a few things:
  • it will be stormy around you when you are changing something
  • you will be surrounded with smart people who know how to look after themselves
  • there will be many conflicts that you have to handle
  • the people around you will challenge you
  • you will face complex tasks every day and the management around you wants to get your power

… sounds great  a leader doesn’t it? All respect to people managing it and shaping the future.

I am fascinated by history, when someone has started to do something differently and then a year later everyone do the same. This will be an other story in a new post later on.
Leave a Comment

Social Media Q&A

Do you have any questions about life in relation to social media?

Send an email with your question to Sofie Sandell for a chance to get it published here.

Blog Archive

All blog categories

1) Branding
2) Conferences
3) Creativity
4) Feminine Leadership
5) Google Hangouts
6) Leadership
7) Life online
8) Personal
9) Podcasts
10) Public speaking
11) Press and media mentions
12) Social media
13) Social Media Q&A

14) Trendspotting

Enjoy my blog. If you have any feedback please let me know!


12 practical tips for how to use social media to build your reputation and share your key messages

To download click here, or the image below.

You don't have to give me your email address, but if you like to subscribe to my Digital Leadership Inspiration newsletter you can do that here.











Digital Leadership with Sofie Sandell