I have been teaching a leadership class for many years now. Because of the nature of the class, I try to keep the enrollment number low so that I can get to know each student better. We look at leadership from many different angles, not just theory. If you’ve been following this blog, you probably are not surprised when I say that I use a very nontraditional approach to the subject matter. Basically, I believe good leadership starts with being able to lead yourself and leadership gone bad is often the failure of personal leadership. What does that have to do with the title of this blog…playfulness? I think it is very, very important to keep that quality of playfulness about ourselves. We followers like to know that our leaders can have simple fun and light moments.
You ever give a present to an infant or toddler and watch them get more enjoyment out the box it came in? Do you remember the joy of getting a large cardboard box, like something a television or an appliance came in, and cutting a hole in it so you could crawl in like it was your new home? Or, remember getting a long cardboard tube which could first be used as some sort of sound amplifier, and then a battle sword, and then a severely bent in half cardboard tube? When I was a kid, we would put a string on a broomstick and put it between our legs while we “rode” our “horse” out in the fields behind my aunt’s house. We’d play for hours. It reminds me of watching a small group of children make up a game out of a few random items – complete with unwritten, but well understood rules? As adults we seem to lose those abilities along the path to living a “responsible” life. Perhaps, we just lose our playfulness
For last week’s leadership class, I brought a soccer (futbol) ball, hula hoops, teenage mutant ninja turtle masks, swimming googles, a plastic baseball and bat, a deck of cards, and wands that made bubbles from soapy water to the leadership class. We headed out to the green, open playing fields on our campus. The assignment: all items must be used to create a new game that required two teams to interact with each other.
They stared blankly as they tried to figure it out. Slowly ideas started to surface from the two groups, but you could see them really struggling with the idea…a task they used to be able to accomplish easily as 5 year olds. Finally, after about 30 minutes, they came together and shared their ideas and they came up with the silliest little game that required silly actions… and they began to play the game. Guess what? It wasn’t long before they were all laughing, everyone was smiling…and refining the rules as the game proceeded. In some ways, it was like a celebration of being human. The best part – at the end of the game, the score was tied and the deck of cards had to used as a tie breaker. Many other students walked by watching this group be playful. My students loved their new game and their new experience. It was wonderful to watch.
Those chickens I have been blogging about have introduced a new sense of playfulness in my own life. This morning I sat on a log in their chicken run holding a bag of chicken treats that must be something like chicken cocaine. They LOVE this stuff and I give it to them once in awhile for training purposes. This morning, one of the chickens flew up and sat on my shoulder, as if I was a B-rated pirate who couldn’t afford a parrot. When she flapped her wings, it tickled my ear and neck. I laughed and that felt good…a morning laugh…being playful with a chicken. That moment, alone, was worth all the expenses of raising and protecting those chicks.
With that same attitude of playfulness, I found a shirt at the country feed store that I just had to have. I went home, put it on, threw on a ball cap, grabbed a couple of ladies – one for each arm – and took a picture. I showed it to my boss, an academia kind of good man, and he said good naturedly, “I can’t believe that guy works for me!” Yes, he does boss…just being playful!