09/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Leadership in the Age of Improvisation

Who are the strongest players in the 'Bill Clinton-Kim Jong-Il North Korean Prisoner Pardon' scene?

The answer is given by Maureen Dowd in the closing paragraph of her column in the Aug. 5 NY Times:

"Hillary and President Obama look bigger when they share the stage with other talented players," writes Dowd.

That Bill Clinton and Kim Jong-Il are the stars of this scene is a result of strong supporting moves by players who were not onstage for the photo op.

Just as he did with the recent 'Beer Summit' scene, President Obama, has demonstrated that leadership in the Age of Improvisation can just as often be effective from the wings as it can from center stage. By inviting a couple of feuding folks over for a backyard brew, Obama elevated the status of a cop and a college professor, delighted the managers of three beer companies, and in 40 minutes turned a scene that his adversaries were pounding with a racism stick into an exercise in peacemaking. That's leadership.

And just as she showed when she chose to collaborate with Obama after a viciously competitive campaign, Mrs. Clinton demonstrates that the new mode of leadership is just as much about generosity, and gifting a fellow player with a moment in the spotlight, as it is about seizing it for oneself. It is as much about good casting as it is about playing the starring role.

Today, there are too many productive avenues for action, too many opportunities to move our scenes forward, for any one player to be front-and-center in all of them. A person with a chronic need to be the hero of every scene, the one planting the flag on the mountaintop, or landing on the deck of the aircraft carrier to proclaim that the mission has been accomplished, will find that a hundred other scenes have passed them by, and with those scenes, the opportunity to influence and lead has evaporated, too. True leadership never turns its back on opportunity.

Sir Edmund Hillary was celebrated around the world as the first man to climb Mount Everest. As Hillary himself acknowledged, his guide, Tenzing Norgay, was the person who led the way.

In the Age of Improvisation, we take turns on the mountaintop. Leadership comes from those who show us a path for getting there. As Dowd points out in her Times piece, performers are at their most powerful when they find ways to share the stage with other talented players. "Follow the follower," is the saying attributed to the legendary improv director, Del Close.

Skilled players will, as always, have their moments in the spotlight. The new leadership opportunities are for those who support, nurture, inspire and enable fellow players to discover their own avenues to stardom.