Play can create lasting impressions

In the coaching I do with executive teams, they often gain the huge benefits of retreats and off-site sessions. I always have mixed feelings about them in the beginning. On one hand the sessions are exceptionally useful: Leaders can learn so much more purposefully, opening their thinking to a vastly deeper level when ‘forced’ to focus sans their offices, telephones and computers— no Palm, Blackberry or Treo allowed.

On the other hand, I always feel for the mid-level managers left behind to hold up the fort, easily remembering how I felt about it when in their shoes. So part of my involvement as coach is to charge the executive team involved in what and how they are communicating their absence and reasons for the retreat to the rest of their management team. A portion of the homework they will receive from me, is a deadline for duplicating their retreat experience for their next level of managers when they return, and our final exercise is one in which we brainstorm and mindmap to recreate what they themselves experienced in our time together.

Two things tend to happen. First, I find that executives are always very eager to share their experiences in an expression of appreciation for what they themselves have gained. Second, Le‘ale‘a, our value of playfulness this month, always predominates by this segment of the session, and it serves to color their experience mindmap with a wonderful energy of creativity and enthusiasm.

Their experience re-creation will usually involve a different setting for their managers and staff, largely determined by all the logistics they consider to be their variables.

Sense of place is a large part of the Managing with Aloha experience they themselves walk away from our sessions with, and when they start to talk about possible slide shows or story-telling experiences, I will encourage them to simply have everyone dress comfortably one day, lace up some walking shoes, and hit the pavement around where they work to see what they can discover in a spirit of Le‘ale‘a with playfulness and a sense of adventure.

I recently spoke to a hotel industry leader who did just that, exploring the Kama‘ole beaches of South Maui along Kihei Road. He described a fantastic experience to me that had started in the early morning hours, where he started a walk with a dozen of his managers. It ended by 9am with a picnic-style breakfast, everyone sitting on beach mats on a green lawn overlooking Maui’s south shore beaches intently sharing a talk-story of what they had learned. He said the biggest impressions on everyone came when they discovered a very weathered sign at a beach called Kama‘ole I:

Practice Ground for Pacific War

“During World War II U.S. soldiers swarmed South Maui beaches. They built replicas of Japanese shoreline defenses—then assaulted them with ships, tanks, and tractors.

Here at Kama‘ole, blasts ripped the air as Navy frogmen detonated practice bombs. Tents of a training camp crowded the beach and Kihei Road, and a two-story pier jutted into the sea.
Parts of the pier remain today, half buried in the sand. Look for other remnants of war as you enjoy South Maui beaches and nearshore waters.”

There was a sun-faded sepia picture on the signboard of the embattlement of the day, surrounded by barbed wire fences. In the picture, two women dressed for a day at the beach peer through the barbed wire, watching solders hoisting guns for target practice. The caption says,

Keep Out! Barbed wire blocked access to South Maui beaches. Residents had to evacuate beachfront houses.”

If you could now look out at the beauty of Kama‘ole, you would understand how difficult this is to imagine. Managers who had lived on Maui most of their lives, now have a much different appreciation for a shoreline’s beauty once taken for granted every day.

I am on Maui this weekend as I write this. I do think I will visit Kama‘ole when I lace up my own walking shoes tomorrow morning. In my own play, I am also anxious to learn.


  1. says

    Rosa, I’ve often thought about taking my field leaders into the Rocky Mountains to soak in the majesty, eliminate the distractions, and really regenerate that creativity and enthusiasm you speak of. Your post has rekindled those thoughts, and I hope to take this “field trip” later this summer. Thanks!