Provision #681: Entertainment Matters

Laser Provision

What does entertainment have to do with leadership? By the end of this Provision you may be surprised to find out the connection. Entertainment opens up people to new ideas, to hard truths, to learning frameworks, and to productive engagement. What more could a leader or organization want? If you wonder what it means to work smarter, rather than harder, then read on. It may just mean having a little more fun.

LifeTrek Provision

I wrote last week’s Provision, Education Matters, while sitting in the passenger seat of our car, en route to the Chautauqua Institution in western New York State. The theme of my Provision was a natural, given the importance of education to both leadership and Chautauqua. That was especially true last week, since the program included many leaders in education who were speaking on the subject of “excellence in public education.”

The week turned out to be rich beyond compare. Not only did we learn a lot about many creative, leading edges in education today, including several international perspectives, but we gave our new book, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, to many leaders in the field of education who may not have otherwise discovered the book.

We came away with a clear sense that our book was both timely and on track. There is more recognition than ever before that teachers need to be responsible for both the performance of their students and also for their own performance improvement. There is no way to “teacher-proof” the curriculum and there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to the challenges that face educators today.

“Every teacher an innovator” may well be the message of the week, and it is a message that dovetails nicely with Evocative Coaching. We, too, encourage coaches and teachers to generate and adopt tailor-made teaching strategies that work for them, in their settings and classrooms, processing in the present for optimum effectiveness. Practices become “best practices” only when they are fitted to the needs of individual teachers and students.

Coaches know all about the power of such adaptive learning strategies. You might say it is our stock and trade. But it is still wonderful to have that message confirmed, one speaker after another, on the august platforms of Chautauqua. I came away thinking, “Evocative Coaching stands a chance of catching on and making a difference.” Time will tell.

Now I am sitting in the passenger seat again, writing my next Provision in our series on leadership. If you read last week’s Provision, then you know that I set up this Provision to focus on enjoyment. Education without enjoyment is no education at all. It’s indoctrination or even punishment. And that’s not good for anyone at any age.

I made an almost last-minute decision, however, to change the title of this Provision to “Entertainment Matters.” That’s because the last speaker of the week, Mark Roosevelt, Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, was clearly the best received even though his message was not that different from other speakers of the week. Why? The entertainment factor.

Roosevelt started his speech by observing that after hearing all the other speakers he decided to throw away most of his speech. Why? Because what he planned on saying had already been said. Faced with that situation, Roosevelt quipped that “I feel a little bit like the seventh husband of Elizabeth Taylor. I know exactly what to do, I just don’t know how to make it interesting.”

That one brought down the house. As did his later comment about the challenge many students, and many adults, experience trying to learn fractions. “I’d like to get my hands on one of the best T-shirts I ever saw,” he said. “It read, ‘Five out of every four adults don’t understand fractions.'” Sweet.

Roosevelt distinguished himself as the best speaker of the week because he had a great message combined with humility and a great sense of humor. He made learning fun, even when his topic was sobering and even distressing as to the state of education in America today. It may be working well for the top 5% (the haves) but it is not working well enough for the other 95% (the have-nots).

Great leaders put together that same combination: competence, humility, and humor. Enjoyment is not just another word for engagement, although enjoyable learning is always engaging. Enjoyment means that we are laughing, crying, smiling, and having fun in the process of doing whatever it is we are doing. In other words, we are both engaged and entertained.

Entertainment has always been part of the Chautauqua experience. We listen to lectures and participate in workshops, but we also play board games and go to concerts. We kayak on the lake and work jigsaw puzzles. No one is required to have fun, but everyone manages to have their share. It is an essential part of the learning experience.

The root meanings of entertainment are fascinating: “to hold the attention of pleasantly or agreeably; to show hospitality; to admit into the mind; to support.” The opposite of entertainment? Boredom and rejection.

No wonder entertainment is such a fundamental part of great leadership. All leaders are change agents. Managers may be content with running things as they are; leaders want to make things better than they are. And better implies change.

So how do we avoid stirring up resistance when it comes to change? Entertainment! It is impossible to be having fun and to be stressed out at the same time. Fun and stress are on opposite ends of the spectrum. When people are having fun the limbic system calms down, assuming there must not be any imminent dangers or threats to worry about.

Entertainment plays that function whenever it comes to innovation. The two go hand in hand. My son works at a leading research and development company. He loves his job. Why? It’s a fun place to work. The challenges are engaging, yes, but there is also a culture of play that nurtures their natural creativity and curiosity.

Recently, my son turned Wednesdays into board game days . He didn’t have to get permission from anyone; he just announced that anyone who was so inclined could bring board games to work and go into an open meeting room to play, around 4:30 in the afternoon. Now that that has become established, Tuesdays have become Frisbee golf days. From 4:30-7:00, a group knocks off from the tasks at hand to have fun together.

Now some companies might view that as dereliction of duty. In fact, I have provided consulting and coaching services to companies that expected everyone to work until 7 PM or later. Why? There was so much to do! How can anyone play when there were so many deadlines, pressures, and competitors?

My son’s company turns that question around. How can anyone not play when there are so many deadlines, pressures, and competitors? Play • entertainment — is what keeps not only the creative but also the productive juices flowing.

Who wants to slave away all day at a job we hate in order to go home to a life we love? It’s far better to love your whole life, and just your home life, because sooner or later the one you hate will contaminate the one you love. You may be able to do that for a while, but there’s no way to do that forever. That’s simply one of those unwritten but natural laws.

Understanding that law, great leaders make sure they keep entertainment on their radar screens. First, they carry themselves lightly. Second, they introduce humor without insulting people. And third, they encourage people like my son to make the workplace as entertaining as possible.

That’s what makes Chautauqua such a wonderful place to go on vacation. It’s both educational and entertaining. Throw in productive, and you’ve got the secret of dynamic workplaces and leadership everywhere.

Coaching Inquiries: How entertaining is your workplace? How entertaining are you? What would assist you to lighten up and have more fun? What challenges and puzzles would you enjoy playing with? How could you become more curious and creative? Who makes you laugh? How could you spend more time with that person?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

Thanks for the reminder that vacations are so valuable. My latest one was a week in Gettysburg, learning about the Civil War, with 300 others. Will be back next year for the same conference. Wonderful people, superb program and speakers, good food, who could ask for more?

I received your book today and it is as beautiful “in person” as on the website. You must be so proud. It really is rich and (seemingly) all encompassing. You guys are going to rock the education world. Congratulations, once again! I look forward to diving into it.

Discovering your book through the Center for School Transformation was a joy. I was teaching on Friday .. a day of casual relief teaching at a local school where I myself used to teach many years ago. So long ago in fact, that some of the students there are the sons and daughters of students who also attended the school and whom I once taught. 🙂 It is a small, community school of only 130 or so students from Prep to Year 12 (5 years old to 18).

Some of the practices and structures have changed there over the years, as state curriculum requirements have been changed etc. But it remains a school where it is (for me) a joy to spend some time, if they need a relief teacher for the day.
The school is run along truly democratic lines, with students, parents and teachers as equal partners. There is a whole school meeting every morning that is chaired and minuted by the students • even the littlies take their turn, though usually with an older ‘buddy’ to write the minutes. 🙂 And there is none of the ‘us versus them’ nonsense that takes place in other mainstream high schools. 

Anyway, suffice to say it is the one high school environment in which I am happy spending time. I have done relief teaching from time to time in other schools, but find it too stressful to see that in many cases nothing much has changed in classroom practice in the 30 years since I began my own teaching career! Your book could not be coming along at a better time. Thanks. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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