Leadership and Play

I was talking with a friend while on vacation, and he told me about a TED talk he heard. It was given by someone from the armed forces who was trying to figure out what made a good leader. In his opinion, the number one thing that made a good leader was making one’s followers feel safe. When people feel rushed, or in danger, they don’t make good decisions. People need to feel safe to be able to take the time to think through the options – and to even have a calm enough brain to think of options. When people feel scared, our minds flood with all the fight or flight or freeze chemical reactions, and there is no chance for rational thinking.

I immediately thought about all my study of play at work. Play is imperiled when people don’t feel safe. People aren’t willing to take risks and try new things if they think they will be judged, or fired, or mocked. And people stop feeling free to be creative and playful starting around second grade! By the time we reach adulthood, it’s no wonder people are out of the habit of being silly or trying something different.

How do leaders in your organization help people feel safe? How do people in your family help each other feel safe? How can anyone come up with any sort of good idea, especially a creative, new idea, while feeling under pressure, afraid of being criticized, afraid for their safety? I believe that play is one way to set up a safe space. It’s one way to say there is no such thing as failing here, because there is no right or wrong way to play. We will not criticize or make fun of anything that happens in this play space. I believe this is a crucial part of a healthy organization, and if it can’t happen in the office or boardroom or house or classroom, let’s make space for it in the LEGO® Serious Play® room or the craft room or the foam block room.