Innovative Leadership needs more playfulness

Take a lesson on communication from kids! Stop being a perfect leader - be an innovative leader.

authentic thinking like a child

Cast your mind back to your childhood days. Did you ever enjoy a day messing about, and making stories up? You didn't realise at the time that you were displaying qualities needed for innovative leadership!  

So - do it again.  You don't have to take a day off work though - make it part of your work day - part of your business plan.  Stop being so perfect and start being more playful.


Well let's start with considering the opposite - the non-playful -

imagine a dull meeting for instance...

The following behaviours and feelings do not make for a productive and motivating meeting and do not lead to innovation:

  • You go along with the status quo 
  • You are reluctant to express an opinion that goes against the norm
  • You feel uncomfortable about a lack of authenticity in the room - including you
  • You are not given time to explore random ideas
  • You feel everyone is 'protecting their back'

Guess what - Kids tend to side-step these barriers by being less rational, less conformist and more authentic (without even realising it). So let's take some lessons from these kids...

What sparked off these thoughts?

I had the pleasure of being a storyteller at an event recently - my audience were kids. I had a ball! I made a decision that I would not 'tell' them stories - but I would get them to tell stories with me - I just acted as a nudger and flow facilitator.

I was utterly captivated by the collaborative, open-minded behaviour and imaginative powers of these children. You would have been too! I realised that I was in the presence of innovative leaders!

What were the common elements of their story making? 

  • Enthusiasm
  • Just saying stuff
  • Wacky imagination
  • Running with other people's ideas
  • Finding a way to solve the story obstacle - however nutty!
  • Drawing on random mix of inspiration
  • Not bothered about getting it 'right' or 'clever'

Kids behave in ways that invite innovation.

These are 3 examples cited in an article in Business Insider on 'lessons adults can learn from kids'

  • 1
    They try new experiences before being fully prepared.  
  • 2
    They are keen observers of the world around them.
  • 3
    Unfamiliar people and ideas aren't scary

All of these observations about kids behaviour align perfectly with the those made by the authors of 'The Innovator's DNA' - an exploration of the common traits of innovative leaders.

Read this short extract from the introduction:

Innovative entrepreneurs and executives behaved similarly when discovering breakthrough ideas. Five primary discovery skills—skills that compose what we call the innovator’s DNA—surfaced from our conversations. We found that innovators “Think Different,” to use a well-known Apple slogan. Their minds excel at linking together ideas that aren’t obviously related to produce original ideas (we call this cognitive skill “associational thinking” or “associating”). But to think different, innovators had to “act different.” All were questioners, frequently asking questions that punctured the status quo. Some observed the world with intensity beyond the ordinary. Others networked with the most diverse people on the face of the earth. Still others placed experimentation at the center of their innovative activity. When engaged in consistently, these actions—questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting—triggered associational thinking to deliver new businesses, products, services, and/or processes.

The best and most innovative leaders make sure they stimulate an what is required for innovative thinking and action - sparking creativity and exploring all sorts of options and sources of inspiration. They do this for themselves and others. The book referenced above explores these 4 traits of innovative leaders.


  • Ask questions that 'puncture the status quo'
  • Observe the world with an intensity 
  • Network with diverse people
  • Experiment

Spot the similarities between kids and innovative leaders? These were pretty much the same behaviours that the kids demonstrated whilst creating gloriously innovative stories and loving the process. Everyone around them felt inspired too!

Give it a go - reconnect with your child-like spontaneity and curiosity. Allow yourself and others to feel free to experiment with contributions and creations - stop being perfect.

Create new ways to solve old problems - go with the 'yes and' mindset, rather than the 'yes but' approach. 

Develop innovative new products and services and question the old default ways of thinking about your business. Explore the unpredictable paths. Talk with new people.

Is it childish to draw, and daydream?  No!  Give it a go. Do some free flow drawing with no plan - fire up your creative brain neurons.  Walk where there are trees (climb one if you want) - and just make up stories in your head. 

Have a spontaneous storytelling session with your team!

Keep experimenting.

You can start this process by working with a coach. I offer a safe supportive space in which to experiment with communication and get creative. Once you open the door to this - you open the door to as yet unknown opportunities for your business.

Share the insight

Trisha Lewis

I help people become more effective communicators through the kind of coaching that offers a safe space to explore and rehearse and better understand the impact they have. My blog is full of insights and tactics that will help you break down the barriers that prevent you from being a truly effective communicator. These insights are based on my own experience as well as the issues raised during coaching sessions and workshops.