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Adaptive Leadership: 3 Ways Play Prepares Leaders for Change

If there’s one thing that 2020 taught us, it’s that change is inevitable. Not only that, but being prepared to navigate the ambiguity that comes along with change is a vital leadership skill. In 2020, we witnessed first-hand the impact that COVID-19 had on organizational culture and strategy. 

For one of our clients, the global pandemic completely shifted their long-term strategy as they changed their short-term goals to respond to testing needs for the public. For another, culture changes were needed at the manager level to improve remote communication with employees. In both of these situations, adaptive, change-savvy leadership was the key to success. But not all leaders know how to successfully respond and lead organizations through change. 

At Ziksana, we believe that employing play at work is part of the solution. We use the science of play to empower leaders with experiences that connect them to what change feels like. Research shows that for many animals, play is an adaptive function that helps them practice necessary survival skills. 

The same can be said for humans, albeit our environments are typically less life-threatening. However, there are challenges in modern-day organizations that can feel as threatening and high stakes.

Organizational change can be full of fear. On a biological level, dealing with ambiguous situations triggers our “fight-or-flight” response, leading us to quickly take action with the ultimate goal of self-preservation. As a leader, this is problematic. Approaching change from this “triggered” state typically leads to poor decisions that fail to consider the ultimate goal or the other people involved.

If trained leaders hope to respond and adapt to change appropriately, they need to practice navigating ambiguous circumstances with the ability to stay calm, think strategically, consider others, and take bold action. Luckily, engaging in play at work provides a compelling opportunity to practice these skills.

Our research on the impact of playful learning has shown that play prepares leaders to successfully adapt to change in 3 ways:

1. Play Facilitates Adaptive Leadership and Openness in Teams 

To successfully adapt to change, playful leaders need to have a curious, open mindset and gather diverse perspectives to inform their actions. When fear is involved, people tend to rely on their pre-existing knowledge and beliefs to inform their decisions quickly. To be truly adaptable, leaders must take the time to practice appreciative listening – ask curious questions, listen, and understand different perspectives before developing a plan of action. 

Play creates a low-stakes environment where leaders can practice these interpersonal skills without feeling defensive. It sets the tone for the type of curious approach that is necessary for adapting to change. 

2. Play Facilitates Assertive Leadership and Teams Who Take Action 

When faced with change, it is natural to start imagining various approaches to handling it. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, the ability to anticipate future needs, options, and trends is a defining feature of an adaptive leadership style. However, this becomes problematic when too much time is spent in the analysis at the expense of decisive and necessary action. Adaptive leadership is lost without assertive leadership.

As an adult, playing is a risk in-and-of-itself. Acting silly or impractical, especially around a professional team, can be daunting for many leaders. However, playing together allows leaders to recognize their common humanity, accept their flaws, and be open to taking risks in front of one another. 

This experience of psychological safety at work sets a precedent for the type of culture that facilitates a collective willingness to take action and learn from risks. Adapting to change is a constant learning process, and assertive leaders must accept that mistakes will be made along the way. Accepting the inevitability of risk-taking prepares leaders to take action before they feel entirely ready and encourages the same courage from their team members. 

3. Play Facilitates Authentic Leadership and Connection To Teams

To successfully employ adaptive leadership and facilitate the process on an organizational level, leaders must articulate the need for change and motivate others to collective action. Without feeling authentically connected, people are unlikely to trust one another and feel safe. To combat this, adaptive leaders need to know how to facilitate a sense of connection and trust among their team and organization.

Play is one of the most basic ways to encourage authentic connection and build trust at work. It provides an opportunity for people to show up as their whole selves, including the spontaneous and creative parts that are often less prominent in a professional environment. This authentic connection builds the type of trust that enables change to occur. 

Ultimately, play is an activity that prepares adaptive leaders to navigate ambiguity and invite others courageously into the process of change. Play provides opportunities for shared authenticity, courage, and curiosity that combat the fear and resistance to change. Want to experience it for yourself? Join us for PlayTank 2021, a 4-Part Workshop Series on Leading Change.

Sign Up Now

Watch Ziksana’s Founder, Akshay Sateesh, explain what’s in store for PlayTank 2021!

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CALL US

619.354.8326

EMAIL US

info@ziksanaconsulting.com

ADDRESS

3692 Fifth Ave
San Diego, CA 92103

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Team member Jim

Jim Babcock

Adjunct Facilitator

Connect with Jim

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Experience

Jim had a long and rich career with The Walt Disney Company that spanned 35 years. He joined The Walt Disney Company in 1986 as a Cast Member at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. He spent a majority of his career in development and communication roles across multiple Disney businesses, including Disney Store, Disney Consumer Products and Disney Institute. In these roles, Jim facilitated numerous skill-building and team-building programs. He has led classes ranging from coaching, customer-service, presentation techniques and behavioral styles that provide a blend of instruction, exercise, and role-play while linking the debrief back to company-specific objectives.

Jim has also been a host for an array of events. Since 1989, he has hosted hundreds of internal and external events for Disney and other companies/non-profits with audiences ranging from 15 to 2,000. The events have included award presentations, fund-raising galas, red-carpet interviews, and televised home shopping appearances.

What I Do At Ziksana

Jim is a Faciliatator with Ziksana Consulting, providing Leadership Development training to public and private sector clients in areas of communication, coaching, trust, motivation and innovation. His humorous and relatable teaching style makes him a participant favorite and often-requested facilitator.

How I Like To Play

Jim enjoys performing in improv shows and going on adventures with his niece. Since moving back to Michigan in 2021, he has started working part-time at a bakery and absolutely loves it.

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Kelby Kupersmid

ZIKSANA FACILITATOR

Connect with Kelby

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Experience

Kelby is a Global Business Leadership and Coaching specialist who brings positivity, curiosity, and intellectual rigor to all of his projects. His diverse professional background, from working at a pre-revenue startup to a multi-billion-dollar financial institution, informs his unique approach to workplace innovation and efficacy.

Kelby is also a Co-Founder of Innovation Journey, a company that organizes business trips to Israel to explore its unique innovation ecosystem. He serves as Director of Leadership Programs, designing and facilitating unforgettable learning experiences to help professionals lead innovation in their careers and organizations.

What I Do At Ziksana

As Founder and CEO of Kinetic Development, Kelby partners with local and global organizations to increase their leadership effectiveness so they can enhance business results. He draws on his multidisciplinary experience to find a targeted approach that works for each client, combining assessments, individual and team coaching, and large group facilitation.

As an Executive Leadership Coach, Kelby helps ambitious professionals refine their mindset and skillset so they can unleash their full potential. He helps clients “get out of their own way” by illuminating blind spots and challenging limiting beliefs. Through crystal-clear development goals and strategies, they accelerate leadership skills to improve performance and business outcomes.

Background

Kelby is a first-generation U.S. American born to Jewish-Argentinian immigrants. He was born and raised in Southern California, has worked and studied in Latin America, Europe, and Asia, and traveled to over 20 countries across 5 continents. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in International Business from San Diego State University and a Master of Science in Global Business Leadership from the University of San Diego. He also holds a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential from the International Coaching Federation.

How I Like To Play

Kelby is a lifelong musician, having played guitar and rapped in award winning jazz, orchestra, and rock bands. He is currently on a 6-month road trip across the US in an RV.

Team member Chris W

Chris Watz

ZIKSANA FACILITATOR

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Experience

Chris has influenced senior leaders to achieve greater impact in rapid growth organizations for over 15 years. He has experience leading a variety of change initiatives including leadership development, culture change, and end-to-end business process improvement. For 10 years, Chris managed continuous improvement efforts at World Vision International. He led projects to enhance collaboration, develop leadership bench strength, and streamline resource and information flow across 90 countries. In partnership with McKinsey, Accenture and Booz Allen Hamilton, Chris’s leadership and evaluation expertise helped two industry pioneering projects make critical adjustments to achieve greater return on investment. As a result, World Vision began operating more effectively at a global scale, during a time of rapid organizational growth.

Chris received his M.A. from Claremont Graduate University in Organizational Behavior Psychology and Program Evaluation. He also holds certificates in Project Management, Lean /Six Sigma (Green Belt), and Structured Behavioral Interviewing. Chris also founded Watz Productivity, a Consulting Company that uses data-driven solutions and coaching to support Executive Teams undergoing rapid growth.

What I Do At Ziksana

Chris is a Facilitator, Consultant, and Executive Coach with Ziksana Consulting.

How I Like To Play

Chris has worked and travelled in 44 countries, and loves rock climbing and photography while visiting new places. He is passionate about helping people find fulfilling careers that help them do the things they love most in and out of work.

Team member Kane

Kane Luong

GRAPHIC DESIGNER & WEBSITE DEVELOPER

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Experience

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Kane received his B.A in Graphic Design from San Diego State University. He began his career with San Diego State University and then started his own design studio. He has worked with many local clients which include, Goal Success, Pho Ca Dao, Zeroline Golf, Solarflexion and Therapies For Success. He has a passion for solving complex business problems through design thinking, and consistently strives for the betterment of his work.

What I Do At Ziksana

Kane is Ziksana’s graphic designer and web developer. He designs participant workbooks, presentations, and supports website development.

How I Like To Play

One of Kane’s favorite activities is playing badminton. He also enjoys trying out new food, exploring places around San Diego and finding new trails to hike. Kane loves to travel internationally, and wants to explore more of Canada!

Team member Courtney

Courtney Hale

EXPERIENCE DESIGNER & PLAY PRODUCER

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Experience

Courtney is a graduate of The Edward R. Murrow School of Communication and began her career in Broadcast News as a producer at Washington State University. From there, she moved to Los Angeles, California where for over 10 years, she produced, wrote, and developed television programs for The Weather Channel, SyFy Network, Fox Sports, Sony Pictures Television, ABC Disney, NBC and CBS. In addition, she oversaw all aspects of production and prepared daily production plans for operations and filming. She relied heavily on her communications and client relations background as a liaison between cast, crew, agents, managers, publicists, the studio and the network.

Courtney also worked for The Found Animals Foundation; a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing the use of euthanasia in the United States. She was brought on as the program manager responsible for developing, managing and launching their National Microchip Program and free Microchip Registry, partnering with shelters, clinics, rescue groups and veterinarians. Her other responsibilities included developing and producing the foundation’s corporate videos that were shown at trade shows and conferences. In addition to that, she spearheaded the Found Animals Foundation Awards where she was responsible for all event logistics, promotions, and marketing.

What I Do At Ziksana

Courtney is the “producer of play” and likes to wear many hats. Some of her daily activities include designing innovative and impactful experiences for clients, helping lead internal culture initiatives, and producing company events & videos.

How I Like To Play

Courtney feels lucky to be a part of the San Diego Improv community where she gets to perform regularly. Courtney also enjoys exploring lesser-known festivals (avocado/margarita festival, anyone?), discovering new vacation spots with her family, trying out new dinner recipes, and writing Hallmark Holiday movie scripts just for the fun of it.

Team member Chris P

Chris Pizarro

PLAYFUL PROJECT MANAGER

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Experience

With three years of experience in the field of event and project management, Chris excels in filling a critical gap in the field of Leadership Development. He was hired by the Center for Creative Leadership in 2012 as a Program Coordinator, delivering programs throughout the United States and in Latin America for non-profit and Fortune 500 clients. In this role, Chris was responsible for all program logistics, serving as the primary point of contact for the delivery team and participants. He was later promoted to a Sr. Program Coordinator role, overseeing the San Diego campus’ Open Enrollment product line. Chris also spent 3 years as an Assistant Store Director for Sprouts Farmers Market, managing around 100 employees from entry level to first time managers.

What I Do At Ziksana

Since joining the team in 2018, Chris has been providing operational, communications, and business process support to Ziksana Consulting. He is the master of Project Management and enables Ziksana to deliver exceptional services to multiple clients.

How I Like To Play

Chris enjoys living locally in his hometown of San Diego, CA. He takes pride in his city and enjoys attending and supporting local sporting events. On his time off, Chris enjoys spending quality time with his wife, daughter, and two lovable dogs. His passion for barbecuing is unparalleled.

Team member Laura

Laura Fleig

ZIKSANA FACILIATOR

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Experience

Laura is a New-York native with a degree in Criminal Justice & Psychology from the University of Albany. She moved to San Diego in 2014 and began working as a residential counselor for youth in the foster-care system. During this time, Laura became deeply interested in how to create a therapeutic group environment where people could heal and grow.

In 2018, Laura began working in the field of Learning and Development as a group facilitator at The University of California, San Diego. Using a high-ropes course as an experiential learning tool, Laura has facilitated over 50 leadership and team development programs for children, young adults, and professionals. Additionally, Laura has been guiding and facilitating transformational outdoor adventures since 2018. Using lessons from the outdoors, she facilitates impactful experiences that help people grow both personally and professionally.

What I Do At Ziksana

Laura is a Designer, Facilitator, and Coach at Ziksana. She also runs Ziksana’s social media accounts.

How I Like To Play

Laura enjoys taking on challenging sports and activities that push her physical and mental limits. She can be found skateboarding down Mission Boardwalk, catching waves at Ocean Beach, and sport-climbing throughout the Western United States.

Ziksana Founder Akshay Sateesh

Akshay Sateesh

FOUNDER & PRESIDENT

Connect with Akshay

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Experience

Akshay started his career as a Business Development & Project Leader at DuPont’s BioMedical, where he led product development teams to launch medical device implants for surgeries. During his career at DuPont, he led two product development teams and developed collaborative partnerships to take the medical devices to market. His passion for leading others jump started his innovative approach to leadership development.

In 2008, Akshay combined his love for improvisational theatre and leadership by founding Ziksana Consulting. He began delivering playful workshops to biomedical companies, and quickly expanded to other industries based on Ziksana’s initial succees. Akshay has a M.A. in Leadership Studies and Group Dynamics, and is a Certified Stakeholder Centered Coach. He has facilitated programs in leadership development, innovation, and team dynamics for adults and children in the U.S., Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, India, and South Africa.

Akshay served as an Adjunct Faculty member for the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego for over 5 years, as well as a Consultant for the Centre for Organization Effectiveness.

What I Do At Ziksana

Akshay is the founder of Ziksana Consulting, and serves as a Workshop Facilitor, Executive Coach, Experience Designer, and Keynote Speaker.

How I Like To Play

Akshay enjoys spending time with his young family and is known for his play versatility (he can play almost any sport and give you a run for your money). Apart from dancing in the car, playing a clown at his kids’ schools, and playing with strangers on his Nintendo Switch, Akshay loves photography, surfing, playing tennis, and diving with his wife, Brooke. He would like to spend more time developing his ukelele and magic skills.

A white man smiling in a green circle background

Akshay Sateesh

FOUNDER & PRESIDENT

Connect with Akshay

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Experience

Akshay started his career as a Business Development & Project Leader at DuPont’s BioMedical, where he led product development teams to launch medical device implants for surgeries. During his career at DuPont, he led two product development teams and developed collaborative partnerships to take the medical devices to market. His passion for leading others jump started his innovative approach to leadership development.

In 2008, Akshay combined his love for improvisational theatre and leadership by founding Ziksana Consulting. He began delivering playful workshops to biomedical companies, and quickly expanded to other industries based on Ziksana’s initial succees. Akshay has a M.A. in Leadership Studies and Group Dynamics, and is a Certified Stakeholder Centered Coach. He has facilitated programs in leadership development, innovation, and team dynamics for adults and children in the U.S., Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, India, and South Africa.

Akshay served as an Adjunct Faculty member for the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego for over 5 years, as well as a Consultant for the Centre for Organization Effectiveness.

What I Do At Ziksana

Akshay is the founder of Ziksana Consulting, and serves as a Workshop Facilitor, Executive Coach, Experience Designer, and Keynote Speaker.

How I Like To Play

Akshay enjoys spending time with his young family and is known for his play versatility (he can play almost any sport and give you a run for your money). Apart from dancing in the car, playing a clown at his kids’ schools, and playing with strangers on his Nintendo Switch, Akshay loves photography, surfing, playing tennis, and diving with his wife, Brooke. He would like to spend more time developing his ukelele and magic skills.