Uplevel your leadership with play

Kevin Carroll is not made from the usual recipe. In fact, his childhood was a fertile ground for everything that sets a person up to go down the wrong path. However, as a small abandoned child he found his Chief Encouragement Officer (I’ll tell you more about her in a moment.) 

Kevin and I recently sat down for an amazing conversation all about how, of all things, “play” can help any leader up-level their performance. Join us to learn how to bring more joy and creativity into your leadership style today.

Kevin Carroll’s resume is mindblowing: Aside from being a bestselling Author + Human Performance Coach + Creative Catalyst. Kevin brings a playful curiosity, an avid intellect, a keen understanding of human nature, and a lifelong love of competition to all of his endeavours. He sees humanistic potential + possibilities everywhere. He solves issues and challenges in surprising + unexpected ways. Kevin is an author of three highly successful books published by ESPN, Disney Press and McGraw-Hill. He has helped turn creative ideas into reality for organizations such as Nike, Starbucks, Adidas, Walt Disney, Target, Proctor & Gamble, Under Armour, Mattel, the National Basketball Association and many others.

A Human Catalyst

Most of us have had moments where we’ve been headed down the wrong path. Some people never find a way off that path, while for others, like Kevin, someone shows up and redirects their trajectory. People who have had that experience often report that they are never the same. 

So imagine an unexpected connection to someone because of a playground scuffle and a peanut butter & jelly peace offering. This is how Ms. Layne came into Kevin’s life. 

As the years passed, Ms. Layne became the Chief Encouragement Officer of his dreams, hopes and aspirations. Kevin shared with me how, from that first encounter, she provided a sense of belonging and connectedness, and created a catalytic energy that propelled him forward into the success he enjoys today.

Kevin noted that we each need a catalyst like this in our lives…and can also be this in another’s life. What one way can we make it happen? Using play to create relationships.

We each desire a sense of belonging and connection, and play can absolutely facilitate both of those things.

For Kevin, play is deeply attached to belonging, connection, and being with other people. As a child, he wanted to keep those he played with engaged longer in order to prolong connection. By enjoying time together, he found that other aspects of life could be elevated. As an adult, he’s found that using play to foster connection and belonging can powerfully transform leadership and businesses.

What Did Work…Doesn’t Work

Leadership is changing. We have new challenges, expectations, and roles for today’s leaders, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. In this enlightening conversation, Kevin shared that rather than digging our heels in and refusing to change, we can tap into our playful nature to meet the challenges we face.

This can mean opening ourselves up to a new perspective.

Kevin shares that everybody has a primal play history, which means we all have that powerful pastime in common. Rather than brush play aside as being childish, he asks us to consider: What if we tapped in to the power of purposeful play?

Imagine creating a day of corporate recess. Leaders from all different areas are brought together, and they get to be on a new team for a day of games. Everyone can pick their own title or name based on what they contribute (maybe your team will have a Contrarian, a Positive Deviant, or a Visionary). 

What would you learn about the people you work with? 

How would the sense of connection and belonging change your day-to-day interactions with those you work with?

One thing that’s vital here is breaking down the silos! Rather than creating teams that keep departments grouped together, branch out! Find ways to include a variety of cross-sections in order to really break down divisions and open people up to one another.

Another key point? Intentionality! Kevin and I discussed the desire of companies to go with the latest trends, and how doing so aimlessly has little to no real impact.

Things like giving everyone a beanbag and an espresso machine….

Building a baseball team…

Creating a “cool space” for people to play…

They aren’t effective if they are just random things you’re doing to create a certain perception. Bottom line; if there is no intentionality behind a strategy, it won’t achieve anything!

Get in the Sauce

People do what they see. If a leader says that play is acceptable, but is never seen actually playing themselves…

People won’t play. Leaders Must Lead!

As a leader, you need to create a marinade for your people. Kevin shares that a leader must have the courage to demonstrate the behaviors they want to see. In other words…leaders need to get in the sauce!

When your employees see you modeling vulnerability and engaging in the process, they see that it is safe for them to do the same. When they see you actively being creative, thinking outside the box, or being willing to try something new that you may not be immediately good at…they’ll understand that they can do the same.

Leaders must set playfulness and creativity up properly in order to make it robust, energetic, and alive.

Often it is the simple moments that change things. Rather than attempting to find complex solutions, or force a complicated answer, play allows you to connect with the “heart” of a situation. Abstract thinking, wonder, imagination, innovation: this can all be tapped into with play.

But first…

You have to help your people understand that it is SAFE to engage in this way. You have to get in the sauce and model by doing!

The Editorial Calendar of Success

Kevin shares that whenever something new is rolled out, you need to make an effort to set it up for success. If you know that the goal is to increase a sense of play or creativity at the end of 90 days, roll it back and think about how it will happen, starting from Day 1.

What’s the plan? How will you offer “teasers” to your employees? How will you position it for success?

The worst thing you can do to any new initiative is to leave it to fend for itself!

When a leader is serious about seeing something succeed, they absolutely consider what steps are required to get that done. Play and creativity are no different. Vaguely mentioning that you want to see more of it, will not give your team the freedom to pursue it.

Consider how you will demonstrate the goal to those around you.

How will you help your team feel safe? How will you engage others in the process?

This conversation with Kevin was “Katalytic” and so powerful! I would highly encourage you to listen in, especially to the last 15 minutes when we push into vulnerability and leadership. You won’t want to miss it!


Dov Baron is first and foremost “The Dragonist”. As The Dragonist, he teaches us how to recognize, find, retain and nurture dragons (top talent) hidden within our organizations. 

Want to learn more about what Dov has to offer, and how you too can become a Dragonist in your realm? If you and your leadership team are dedicated to getting the result you set out to achieve in the most meaningful manner, bring Dov in to speak to your organization about the strategic advantages of Dragon Leadership. Go here to get started.

Copyright: Dov Baron International 2020


  • @TheDovBaron

    Inc Magazine top 100 leadership speaker, Inc #1 Podcast for Fortune 500 Executives, Entrepreneur Mag contributor, Leadership Strategist, Storyteller.

    Dov Baron

    Dov Baron is “The Dragonist”, guiding us in how to recognize and nurture dragons (the top talent) hidden in our organizations. A Dragon Leader is not a position; it’s someone who is always pushing to improve and wants those they serve to reach their full potential.   Dov’s humour and no-BS style is contagious. As a master storyteller, he is considered to be the leading authority on actualized leadership. Actualized leadership means getting the result you set out to achieve in the most meaningful manner.   Working with diverse leaders and executive teams, Dov filters common bonds to create Fiercely Loyal cultures. You can’t achieve loyalty without “meaning”, and talent only stays when they feel they are a part of something larger than themselves.    Besides being a bestselling author of One Red Thread and Fiercely Loyal: How High Performing Companies Develop and Retain Top Talent, Dov has been named one of Inc. Magazine’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers to Hire and as one of the Top 30 Global Leadership Gurus. He has spoken to the United Nations, The World Management Forum (Iran), The New York National Speakers Association, and The Servant Leadership Institute.    In June 1990, while free rock climbing, Dov fell approximately 120 feet and landed on his face. The impact shattered most of the bone structure of his face. After ten reconstructive surgeries, no external evidence remains; however, this experience wasn’t just life-changing, it was completely transformational. Dov shares how Dragons are born in fire. Experiences that could potentially destroy you can, instead, birth purpose, passion, and the hunger to champion others. We can learn to nurture the Dragon Fire in ourselves, our families, our communities, and our companies.    Dov believes the world needs more "Dragon Leaders" committed to living their purpose, standing in their truth, and empowering others to find their fire and do the same.