Leadership Coaching: Being Seriously Playful in Messes

There isn’t much doubt that for the most part we are all in a bit of mess. That is, there are lots of forces conspiring against our dreams of a sensible, ordered world where people behave rationally.

For executives, mess and stress are positively correlated. The more the mess, the more the stress. Executive coaches – often with psychology backgrounds – can help in many ways. There is abundant research that competent executive coaches working within organisations – in a way that is aligned with the strategic and cultural contexts – can be of considerable value in boosting all sorts of positive measures such as productivity, well-being, health, etc. (Dr Tony Grant at Sydney University has been tracking the evidence for this for over 20 years). But, wait, there’s more…

We are now finding that leaders who coach others, adapting some of the same methodologies applied by executive coaches, can also help people in organisations to survive and thrive. Carol Kauffman, Executive Director of the Institute of Coaching has related some anecdotal evidence that coaching others even has positive benefits for the well-being of the leader-coach.

In the title, I’ve mentioned being ‘seriously playful’. This is my all-time-favorite-philosopher’s-quote from John Dewey who was ahead of his time 1910 when he wrote,’.. to be playful and serious at the same time is possible, and it defines the idea mental condition’. You don’t find it talked about much in coach-training, but when you talk to and listen to great coaches and great leaders you invariably find playfulness. There is invariably lots of laughter. This is no coincidence. Simply put, the mind works better when there is this lovely and paradoxical interplay between the deadly serious stuff of work and the playfulness of human intellect.

My proposition here is simple. Let’s have fun! Coaching as a mindset and a methodology gives us a way of surfing the turbulent times in which we live, work and play. And surfing beats fighting the waves until we slip under. Great coaching and great leadership coaching go beyond models and structures to touch the energy within the human spirit – to tickle the intellect, the engage the heart, and to connect people to meaning and purpose. And it’s best done with wit, humour and fun.

This July, at the QUT Graduate School of Business in Australia, we begin our third cohort of a bespoke Executive Graduate Certificate of Business that we have constructed around leadership coaching – drawing on this idea of being seriously playful. It’s mainly virtual, runs over a year, and assessment is primarily geared on how you can make a positive difference in a real organisation. The graphic captures pieces of the seriously playful journeys of participants in our course.

If you’d like to know more, visit Leadership through Coaching and Mentoring at QUT.

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