Games We Learn to Play

by David Smith, CEO & President
Published July 12, 2018
We learn to play many games as children – unfortunately resulting in us learning as much how to follow as to lead. “Simon Says…” is a game played by many a child where creativity and originality are discouraged in favor of doing exactly what is asked, allowed or permitted.  I recently played “Simon says…” with several children while on vacation – having them walk obediently into the water without thinking (AND teaching them a lesson that those with longer strides will get wet sooner doing the same thing).  Many lessons in life MAY be learned by doing what we are told but far more can be gained through trial, error and learning through experience.  My wife and I took dance lessons several years ago in preparation for a family wedding where I found myself being told by the instructor “that is not what we worked on…” or “where did you learn that?” far too often during the learning process (probably not a big surprise to those that know me well).  Though she tried diligently to transform me into a graceful instrument of dance, my instructor probably became as frustrated with my asking “Why WON’T this work?” as I was by her saying “You are not yet ready for that!”  As with many lessons in life, I probably remember my “extensions” better than I do the basic steps – we often come to learn what we discover during “the game” rather than through instructions and other rigid procedures that we are told “must be done.”

“Follow the leader” is another childhood game that discourages individuality in favor of simply blending in with a following throng. There can be only one leader while, by necessity and design, there are a multitude of followers. If you are fortunate enough to “lead”, you can pretty much choose the path that will be followed (your road to success) by deciding where the group will go, how it will get there and how much time it will take to reach your destination.  If you are among the many followers, however, it is hard to have much say in where you are going because you become too busy watching those ahead of you while trying to stay ahead of (or at least out of the way of) those behind you.  Sadly, many schools feel driven to teach students how to function in teams BUT fail to recognize that every team needs a leader (as evidenced by the growing media frenzy about why our educational systems are failing and how they should be saved).  Fortunately, The Association provides excellent Leadership Training to help offset this deficiency to both members AND the community. 

Dodgeball – a “staple” when I was growing up (but now considered too unsafe to play) was another great learning game.  Those strong and accurate enough to throw the ball at the feet of others often won the game…those agile and alert enough to catch whatever was thrown their way also became strong contenders.  As with many children’s games, however (and with life itself), there was only one winner (those playing hard did not receive reward or recognition).  The “winner” often came from the ranks of “the strong and developed” or the “agile anticipators” rather the “common folk” (which reflects what often happens in business as well – those developing their skills and talents usually lead while those willing to play without sacrifice tend to follow).

In order to grow and develop we must take the principles of what “Simon says…” by watching to see what works THEN building on the learned concepts by expanding them beyond the original directive.  We must “follow the leader” long enough to learn what direction we are going so we do not become lost during our travels but should, at some point in time, break away from the pack if we truly wish to demonstrate our abilities.  We must be agile and anticipate what might be coming if we expect to catch whatever comes our way and successfully deal with it.  Some have said that one learns all there is to know in life by the end of the kindergarten.  While I do not believe this to be entirely true, I DO feel that paying attention to the principles taught by children’s games can help us to overcome many of the challenges and opportunities presented to us in life as we grow older.

The games we learned as children can be both fun and developmental because they do not often cause irreparable harm.  The decisions we make and the directions we take as adults, however, usually result in more serious consequences than sitting out and watching until the next game begins.  Enhance the leadership skills your management team may be lacking by building upon the lessons of right, wrong, win and lose they learned as children if you want a strong team to help pull your Organization into an ever-more competitive future.  Give us a call if you would like help to identify the strengths of those leading your Organization (AcuMax or other profiles) OR training to enhance the abilities those leading your people have yet to discover.