Should Leaders Ever Be Playful? : John Mattone Global, Inc.

Business Coaching


Leadership coaching understands how leaders can benefit from being playful. Play boosts creativity and the willingness to take risks and leave comfort zones behind. Savvy leaders use playfulness to lend energy to meetings, inspire others, and empower employees.

Play is like an elixir for the soul. It allows us to engage in the relaxed mastery of things we love. It lets us take chances and disregard consequences. It lends wings to our imagination, making it easy to leave our comfort zones and explore the unknown.

Play helps us better understand ourselves and those around us. Play makes us more human, relatable, and approachable. It also makes us better leaders.

When we play, we learn and perform effortlessly.

The Concept of Playful Leadership 

Leadership isn’t easy. To muster the attention and trust of followers while inspiring and motivating them, leaders must learn and master tough skills. They must get to know themselves, become self-aware, and develop the emotional intelligence that allows them to connect with others meaningfully.

In my leadership coaching books and posts, I argue that leaders are the foremost agents of change in their organizations. To be an agent of change, one must be willing to embrace continuous improvement. This requires making significant changes.

Transitions force us to leave our comfort zones, and in leadership, leaders must force transitions by leaving their comfort zones. When in “serious leadership” mode, we tend to give in to the reactive response of protecting our existing identities. We tend to fall back on old behaviors we found rewarding in the past.

Playfulness helps leaders overcome this state of mind. When we play, we open ourselves to a diverse range of possibilities. Play diminishes the role of fear, eliminating it as a factor that can hamstring our evolution toward a future version of our authentic selves.

How Can You Adopt a Playful Leadership Attitude? 

By definition, play is fun, all-consuming, and purposeless. It thus reshapes our brains, refreshes our souls, and boosts our creativity. In the context of leadership, a playful attitude translates to an open mind, the willingness to understand other perspectives, and the audacity to give alternative solutions a chance.

Developing a Positive Play Stance

Leadership is tedious, serious work. It can drain the body and soul of energy, frustrating the leader. However, leadership coaching preaches that if that’s how leadership makes you feel, you are doing it wrong.

The best executive coaching professionals approach leadership development as a series of playful experiments to allow leaders to discover themselves. Rather than working on yourself to improve as a leader, play with your abilities and potential.

In humans and animals, playfulness translates to open, receptive, and enthusiastic body language. When you convey playfulness through words and actions, you invite meaningful connections and relationships with others. Your attitude also becomes contagious.

Playfulness is universally appealing. 

There is no better way to inspire those you lead than by being enthusiastic about common goals and speaking with sparkly eyes and an eager expression about what you want to accomplish.

Boosting Your Meetings Through Playful Creativity

For employees and leaders, meetings are the banes of their existences, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Adding a playful twist at the beginning can turn a meeting into a bonding opportunity people appreciate.

Giving employees the opportunity to talk about what inspires them is a great way to get their creative juices flowing. Short, fun exercises involving creativity don’t just improve employee engagement; they also boost productivity.

Let Everyone Provide Feedback

Business coaching values the impact of attentive, real listening. Creative leaders can take active listening to another level by sprinkling it with a little playfulness.

You can pretend everyone in the meeting is a CEO. Every opinion voiced at the table carries the maximum possible weight. Such positive playfulness results in improved engagement and employee satisfaction. Being able to voice your opinions and have others actively listen to what you say is hugely empowering.

Being overly serious about leadership transitions can be counterproductive. From the perspective of creativity, you’re at your best when you’re playing. Leadership coaching can help you incorporate playfulness into your leadership style without compromising your authority, appeal, or effectiveness.

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