Note: this article has also been published in the weekly Newsletter Coaches Mojo on June 2nd, 2009, editor Colin W. Lewis.

We all have kept wonderful childhood memories of all kinds of playing experiences.Remember how good it felt when you were building these castles for hours in the sand? How satisfying was the experience of kicking that ball at that very specific moment?

Personally, I have a vivid memory of playing endlessly hopscotch, never getting tired, always finding new ways and possibilities in improvisation. (Now, it just seems a little boring for me, I must admit, and very limited as a game…)

What were your favourite games?Playful kid

Did you play a sport, or a musical instrument? Did you play roles? Did you play cards, little soldiers, little cars, little dolls…? Did you play with your imaginary friend?

Whatever the playing activity , it involves body and mind together, and I would add also heart, passion. It involves persistence and determination and practising with great intensity, being totally present to the moment and focused. Have you observed recently children playing? They often look very serious, intensely concentrated on what they are doing, before breaking into laughter and moving to something else.

This extraordinary feeling given by playing is very similar to the notion of "flow"

Playing is essential in building a human being and it is also vital in working environments.

How do you involve playing in your executive coaching ?

Do you allow yourself to smile, to laugh, even to burst into laughter?

Do you prompt the leader you are coaching to mirror those feelings, or to let them emerge?

Recent studies in the emerging field of social neuroscience-the study of what happens in the brain while people interact- show the correlation between  the ability to make people feel good and the global productivity at work.

What Daniel Goleman discovered and published in 1998, on emotional intelligence and leadership, is that "certain things leaders do-specifically, exhibit empathy and become attuned to other's moods-literally affect both their brain chemistry and that of their followers" (Harvard Business Review september 2008: Social intelligence and the biology of Leadership)

"Followers Mirror their leaders-Literally

Perhaps the most stunning recent discovery in behavioural neuroscience is the identification of mirror neurons in widely dispersed areas of the brain.

Mirror neurons have particular importance in organisations, because leaders' emotions and actions prompt followers to mirror those feelings and deeds.

Here's an example of what does work. It turns out that there's a subset of mirror neurons whose only job is to detect other people's smiles and laughter, prompting smiles and laughter in return. A boss who is self-controlled and humourless will rarely engage those neurons in his team member, but a boss who laughs and sets an easygoing tone puts those neurons at work, triggering spontaneous laughter and knitting his team together in the process. A colleague of Daniel Goleman, Fabio Sala, found that top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often , on average, as did mid performing leaders. Being in a good mood, helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively.

In other words, laughter is a serious business"

Playing , also, is a serious business 

 Tim Brown, the CEO of Ideo explains why play and creativity matter so much in the success of his business, in this TED presentation

Basically, if you want to be creative and successful, you need to PLAY!

I have always been integrating playing activities into my trainings and coachings, even teaching, as long as I remember.

Now, I can bring academic and field researches to show evidence to validate this strong intuition that was mine.

If we transfer the points Tim Brown is making in his presentation, to the Coaching activity, we come up with four vital ingredients in a successful coaching:

  • Of course, first, you need TRUST.

Butterfly and boy trust

Let go of your fears. Fears of being judged, fears of being wrong, fears of being ridiculous, fears of failing. Fears of being rejected ultimately.Fear, says Tim Brown, leads us to be overly Conservative and to keep our "wild ideas" inside. As adults, we become overly sensitive and lose a bit of our freedom.

Coaching is about first establishing solid TRUST, without which the relationships cannot grow and mature.

Just like a kid needs to feel safe to be free to play. Some children under too much rules and parental control, find it difficult to let go and play. You would recognise those sad little adults, unable to experience the formidable pleasure in the freedom to play. Let your children play, let your coaching client play!

Once there is trust, the play can start!

  • Then, you are ready to EXPLORE.  


Experiment always, you never know what  you'll find. Experience in quantities!!!

It's the ability to ask questions, to always dig for more options, more solutions, and sometimes more questions…As adults, we may be too quick at categorisation, stereotyping. We see, we judge, we come up too easily to common solutions that have worked in the past.

Exploration in coaching is the discovery journey, the questioning,the "Quest".

  • Once you have explored, you're ready to BUILD.

Coloured building blocks

Learn by doing.Think with your hands.

This about "having your thinking advanced as a result" says Tim Brown.In his company, you find plenty of stuff that enables playful modes.

In my coaching practise, Presentation Skills, Team building ,or Career coaching I use plenty of "pre-school" material.

Legos, play-dough, coloured papers, stickers, m&m's and wonderful toys called figurines( I shall talk about it in another post…). I also use cards, post it, poker tokens, etc… anything at my hands reach, actually!

  • Eventually, you need to ROLE PLAY     


You then act it out and spot where it fits best. You need to trust your intuition…and your coach, who will guide you into role playing.

Role play is essential in order to perceive a situation from different points of view (the "me" view, the "you" and the "meta" view, exercise of the 3 perceptual positions used in NLP)

Again, when I coach, I tap into theater techniques and encourage gently role playing, creating a safe and respectful environment where each one feels free to express feelings, ideas, intuitions, take risk and pretend to be the change they want to see.

The use of figurines here is fantastic because it's so easy, simple and fun!

Here is a sample of the huge collection of Comic Strip  and toons and fairy tales figurines and characters I always bring with me during my coaching sessions.

To summarise:

1) Trust

2) Explore

3) Build

4) Role Play

And a big splash of laughter,that's La recette du chef for an excellent and delicious executive coaching!

Here, at the CEFAM (Centre d'Etudes Franco Américain de Management), during a Team building seminar

Marion InternationalTeam Building


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