Geoff Ball | Crain's Seattle

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Geoff Ball


Playworks is a national nonprofit organization that partners with elementary schools, school districts and after-school programs to integrate games into recess that help improve children’s physical health and social-emotional learning. As the executive director of the Playworks Pacific Northwest Region, Geoff Ball is focused on expanding the nonprofit’s programs in the Portland, Seattle and Tacoma areas.

The Mistake:

Failing to value relationships.

I’m a very task-oriented person. Early on in my career as a leader, I was leading a team of young people who, like me, were people with aspirations and feelings. But I failed to recognize that, and was instead solely focused on numbers and driving results. I was selfish and thought more about reaching my goals, than helping with theirs.

I didn’t create a sense of camaraderie between myself and my staff. I didn’t have authentic relationships with them, nor did I have transparent conversations about what was going on. I left them behind.

Eventually, they stopped following.

Relationships are everything.

The Lesson:

Relationships are everything.

“A rising tide lifts all boats,” and that’s especially true here. After my team stopped following me, I kept wondering why it had happened, because I thought was doing a good job; I was delivering results. Eventually, however, I realized that I hadn’t included my staff in the process.

You have to invest in relationships – especially those with the people you’re leading. That means being open and transparent with them, showing appreciation when they do a good job, and validating them.

I learned that lesson more than 20 years ago, and continue to carry it with me. With Playworks, I have been very conscious about developing relationships first, and figuring out how to meet our goals afterward. Rather than thinking something like, “We are going to make the budget, come heck or high water,” I am focused more on listening to my staff and considering the ways in which we can solve challenges collectively.

Follow Playworks on Twitter at: @Playworks

Photo courtesy of Geoff Ball.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.