Good leaders can make or break a team. While more and more people are being asked to step into leadership roles, the path to becoming a good leader is long and not always straightforward.
Leadership activities are a great way of developing the skills and competencies needed to be an effective leader. It's not easy to learn these skills, especially when so many leaders don't receive effective training or support. In this article, we'll explore the leadership activities you should master in order to lead a high-performing team and become a better leader!
Learning the why and how of being a great leader alongside practical techniques and frameworks is one of the easiest ways to become a better leader.
Anyone in a leadership role has both a big influence and responsibility for their team. Some of the aspects they need to pay attention to in order to be a good leader are:
- Setting the climate of a workplace
- Making decisions
- Inspiring team members
- Setting values for their team
- Improving team spirit and cohesion
- Being responsible for their team’s communication and wellbeing
- Developing leadership skills in others
There are a number of tools to help you with leadership development. Coaching, peer support circles, and leadership development workshops can all help one to become a better leader.
Leadership games such as those featured here are also effective at introducing leadership concepts and learning how to solve common leadership challenges.
In this guide, we’ve grouped leadership activities by these core competencies, so you can choose the right activity to help yourself or others develop their leadership skills. Let’s dive in!
Leadership activities are exercises and games designed to help develop leadership skills and enable leaders to be more effective in their roles. They can include activities that help train new leaders and improve core leadership skills like problem-solving, active listening, or effective group management.
You’ll also find that the best leadership development activities give leaders tools and techniques they can use on the job. It’s one thing to know that leaders need to be good listeners, but quite another to be given a framework and toolkit that means you are a great listener who always helps their team feel heard and understood.
The leadership exercises below are not only great to use when training leaders, but they are practical techniques leaders can use with every team member immediately.
While managers might approach tasks differently based on their leadership style, there are skills and competencies that all leaders should learn in order to be the best they can be. Learning how to be a good leader on the job can be difficult, so using exercises and activities to improve your leadership skills is a smart decision for any group.
If you’re running a leadership development program in your organization, you might use these activities during the training program. For example, after conducting a self-assessment and deciding how they want to develop as a leader, participants might work on improving a problem area with these activities.
Whether you’re running a leadership training program for students and young people, or developing managers internally, these exercises are a great place to begin.
We have collected some easy-to-apply leadership activities for you from the SessionLab library of facilitation techniques. You can apply these leadership training activities right away with your team to improve teamwork, facilitate better communication, and increase team cohesion.
These leadership games are particularly effective if you’re running a leadership workshop or need some exercises when running leadership skills training. Each of them can fit easily into an existing agenda or form the basis for great leadership workshops. Let’s take a look at the categories of leadership activities below!
Leaders are role models to their colleagues and organization. Their working style, principles, and values determine the culture that drives their organization’s behavior.
That is why a competitive, paranoid leader can easily create an organization where coworkers are trying to push others down and think only about themselves. While a leader who is open and inclusive will create a climate of openness and inclusiveness. How they behave, and what they consider the norm, also affects which kinds of behaviors are enforced and celebrated and which behaviors are punished.
The following leadership games can help you in recognising important leadership behaviors that result in a productive workplace. They can also help set the stage for team bonding and a great workplace environment. A must for all leaders!
Leadership games like this help groups translate abstract leadership principles into practical on-the-job behaviors. Participants work in groups to come up with real-life applications of leadership principles.
The groups conduct multiple rounds of discussion to build upon each others’ ideas, and in the end, evaluate the best ideas to identify the most useful behaviors. This is also a great activity to run with all your team members. Seeing how they consider and respond to different leadership styles can help you focus on the right approach as a leader!
Leadership Envelopes #leadership #issue analysis #thiagi
Leadership exercise in groups, working with practical leadership principles.
This activity helps groups to translate abstract leadership principles into practical on-the-job behaviours. Participants work in groups to come up with real-life application of leadership principles. The groups take multiple rounds to build upon the ideas of each other, and in the end, evaluate the best ideas to identify the most useful behaviours.
In this activity, participants take on three different employee personas and list the behaviors of a positive leader or manager and a negative one from the perspectives of those employees. After some individual reflection, participants compare their lists, first in pairs and then in groups. Finally, they collect the ultimate do’s and don’ts for managers and leaders.
Run this leadership technique online by using breakout rooms and an online whiteboard to record your findings. Remember: virtual leadership activities can be an effective way of empowering online teams!
My Favourite Manager #management #leadership #thiagi #teamwork #remote-friendly
Participants work individually, assuming the roles of three different people and brainstorming their perceptions of three most favourite managers and three least favourite managers. Later, they work with a partner (and still later, in teams) to prepare a list of dos and don’t-s for improving employees’ perception of a manager’s style.
This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify the skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development in these areas. This framework is also a great tool to set individual leadership development goals in a coaching process.
We love activities that allow team members to reflect on different leadership styles and assess their own skills and preferences. The visual format makes it easy to share and reflect on too!
Leadership Pizza #leadership #team #remote-friendly
This leadership development activity offers a self-assessment framework for people to first identify what skills, attributes and attitudes they find important for effective leadership, and then assess their own development and initiate goal setting.
Standing in the shoes of others, practicing empathy and ensuring that everyone on a team is able to be heard is a necessity for great leaders and your team in general. In this activity, participants shift between telling stories where they were not heard, seen or respected and then being listeners who do not pass judgment.
Remember that leadership training should often start with the fundamentals of respect and empathy. If you can’t respect and empathize with your team, how can you expect them to do the same for you? Keeping things simple with an activity like Heard Seen Respected can be an especially effective option whether you’re working online or offline.
An important aspect of leadership development is learning how to make informed and intelligent decisions while also ensuring you listen to your team. A leader who bulldozes their team into a decision without first listening to their expertise is not going to make their team feel valued.
The outcomes of uninformed decisions are often poor or frustrating for those involved too. While leaders are justifiably responsible for making final decisions, it’s integral to find methods to do so in a well-reasoned way. These leadership activities are useful when it comes to making good decisions while involving your team members too. Let’s take a look.
When solving problems as a team, it’s common to have various options for moving forward. As a leader, it often falls to you to make the decision for which solution or direction to pursue. But how can you do that while also creating space for the opinions of your team to be heard?
Dotmocracy is a tried and tested facilitation method for making informed decisions with the help of your team. After presenting the available options, give everyone on your team a number of dots to indicate which option they prefer. You’ll want to adjust the number of votes based on the number of options there are to choose from. A good rule of thumb is to have fewer dots than there are options.
Leaders want to be on hand to break any ties and to facilitate discussion around what is chosen, but when it comes to making decisions with your team, this method is hard to beat.
The hallmark of a good decision making process is transparency. Leaders should know why a decision is made and should be able to clearly explain their thinking to others. As such, the best decision making activities make the process open and easy to understand.
This activity is a great framework for making decisions, whether working in small groups or solo. Start by creating a 2×2 matrix and then place possible options on the matrix based on the expected impact and effort it would take to achieve them. This makes it easy to prioritize and compare possible decisions while also including your team in the process.
Good leadership means bringing your own knowledge to the table while also listening to the opinions of the team. When running this activity, be sure to combine these aspects to ensure items are placed in the appropriate place on the matrix.
Making the right decision is often a process of weighing up various factors and prioritizing accordingly. While there are many methods for doing this, being an effective leader often means making this as simple as possible.
We love this decision making activity because it asks the group (and its leader!) some simple questions to narrow down possible options and makes it easy to prioritize too. Start by asking the level of influence a team has to make possible actions happen and ranking them accordingly. Next, choose those items that you have the most influence on and then prioritize the ones you really want to happen. This simple, two-step process is a great activity for leadership development as it is something any leader can use with ease!
Whether you’re leading a small group or working across a massive organization, part of the role of a leader is to help their team work together more effectively. Removing any obstacles to effective collaboration and creating frameworks for better teamwork is something you’ll be doing as a leader.
Developing the leadership skills necessary to identify issues, build great teams and enable better personal collaborations is something you should be doing at any level. Here are some effective leadership activities for when you want to work on team collaboration.
Effective teamwork is often about identifying where each member of a team can have the most impact and use their skills best. Leaders often need to find ways to identify where to direct their team and consider how different skills and working styles fit together to make a cohesive team. This activity makes it easy to facilitate this process and encourage employees to reflect and be proactive too!
We love that this leadership exercise encourages your group to take responsibility and action. When looking for leadership qualities in a group and considering who you might want to develop into a future leader, this is also a great place to start!
Whether you’re leading a team of just a few people or hundreds, the reality is that many of your discussions and interactions with the people you will lead will be interpersonal and one-on-one in nature. Developing the skillset you need to solve issues in your team when they arise and finding ways to ensure these conversations are productive is one of the most important things you can do as a leader.
Use Team of Two whether working online or as part of an in-person session to help your working pairs and interpersonal relationships go from strength to strength. By articulating needs and consequences clearly, this leadership exercise helps people communicate efficiently and see the results they need – a must for anyone in a leadership role!
One of the most important leadership skills to cultivate is clarity: being clear in what you expect and need from others in your organisation or group is an integral component of high-functioning teams. With What I Need From You, each person involved in the exchange is given the chance to articulate their core needs to others and respond in a structured way.
This kind of clear, direct action is great at unblocking conversational roadblocks – a must for virtual workplaces – and is something all leaders should have in their toolkit.
When it comes to enabling true collaboration throughout your organization, it pays to involve your team members in helping shape the way you want to work together. Different leadership styles may call for a different approach to this process, but it’s always helpful to see a complete example of how you might define your team culture and working processes.
In this workshop template, you can see a complete agenda for a team canvas workshop. This will take a team through a process of co-creating and defining everything from your goals, values, assets, and rules. Effective leadership often means tapping into group intelligence and enabling your team to take shared ownership of their success. Team Canvas great way of achieving this!
Great leaders inspire others. It is one of the most important leadership traits and activities on this subject can help make a leadership workshop successful. However, there are many different reasons why someone will find a leader inspirational.
In order to grasp what facilitates inspiring leadership, try the following exercises. You’ll be surprised at how thinking more deeply about your own role models or what your values can help you in all of your leadership interactions!
Everyone is asked to think of a role model they look up to and ask themselves: If a young person would ask these role models for leadership advice and what kind of advice that would be.
Facilitate a group conversation where these pieces of advice are shared and contradicting points are discussed and reconciled. Given diverse enough responses, this structured sharing activity might be a good introduction to the concept of situational leadership.
Leadership Advice from Your Role Model #skills #leadership #thiagi #role playing
This structured sharing activity provides a faster, cheaper, and better alternative to buying and reading a lot of books: You tap into the wisdom of the group—and of their role models.
The core values of your team or organization are a great place to look when you want to inspire your team. Leaders should be involved in defining and exemplifying their core values and also helping create space for the team to share how they’re living those values. The result is an inspiring leadership exercise that allows a leader to help the group celebrate their wins and also suggest places for improvement.
Start by choosing one of your core values and asking activity participants to share a story of how they have been practicing this core value. After sharing, ask the team to reflect on what inspired them from the story. As with any leadership development game, be the first one to share a story to help guide the discussion. Running this exercise will not only help inspire a team to greater heights but also surface any areas that need improvement – it’s a great method to have in your leadership toolbox!
Throughout human history, stories have been a consistent source of inspiration. Whatever your leadership style, finding time to share more about your own story and create space for others to share theirs can be massively useful as a leader.
In Campfire, start by creating a selection of 10-20 sticky notes relating to a concept you wish to explore with the group. Put these on the wall and then invite your group to review them and consider stories they might tell related to one of those words. Start the storytelling session yourself and think about how you might inspire and elicit further stories from the rest of the team before passing the torch to the next person around the campfire!
This is a great activity to run during leadership training, or as a leader with your own team. Creating safe spaces for people to share their experiences is a leadership skill you absolutely want to cultivate and practice!
Leaders are often called upon to inspire their team members about the future of their product or organization. Employees who are excited about where you’re going are more likely to work together well and be energized to see results. This activity is useful for helping inspire a team, or even just to inspire yourself as a leader and get your vision for the future down on paper!
Begin by asking your team to speculate on what the world will look like in five years. Next, ask them to write a letter from the future detailing what the group has accomplished in that time and how they overcame any challenges.
Share the results to inspire the group for what you might accomplish and also start creating plans for how you’ll create your desired future. You might even find that running this activity solo is effective when thinking about how you want to develop as a team leader!
A good leader is one who helps uplift and upskill the members of their team. These leadership activities are designed to help you encourage participants to be more autonomous, take initiative and work on their personal development.
If you’re new to a leadership role or trying to develop your leadership skills, these can also be great activities to practice on the road to leading a team. Growth and development is a vital aspect of employee happiness and fulfillment – be sure to bring ideas for enabling others to your leadership role.
Learning by doing is an important aspect of effective leadership. Sometimes, you have to try something new and approach the task with an open mind while working to the best of your ability. This simple method is a great way of encouraging participants to take an important role during a meeting and also take part in developing and refining those roles.
If you’re running a leadership development program and want to start upskilling participants, this is a great way of delegating some simple leadership roles. Plus, it helps encourage the group to contribute and engage with how a successful meeting is put together too!
One of the most impactful things a leader can do is get out of a team’s way and allow them to perform more autonomously. Doing so effectively means people can take ownership of their work, be more invested, and develop their skills too. But how can you do this without creating chaos or misalignment?
In this activity, you first help a team group around your goals and then reflect on where they can take more ownership and be more autonomous in their work while still contributing to the goals of the team. Not only is this a great way to help your team develop, but it also takes work off your plate as a leader and can enable you to get out of the trenches if necessary.
One of the biggest barriers to personal development is being overwhelmed by what you need to do to achieve your goals. As a leader, you can help your team by enabling them to take the small, important actions that are within their control.
Start by asking participants to reflect on where they have the discretion and freedom to act and how they might make a small step towards a goal without needing outside help. By flipping the conversation to what 15% of a solution looks like, rather than 100%, employees can begin to make changes without fear of being overwhelmed.
Usually, the values of a leader are mirrored in the organization. If shortcuts are common practice for the leader, then she will see shortcuts made by her team members all across their projects. But if learning and self-improvement are important to the leader, then this will be a good foundation for these values in the whole organization, too.
To be more aware of your own values as a leader and then bring these ideas to your team, try these leadership exercises!
Explore your Values is a group exercise for thinking on what your own and your team’s most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitions rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good leadership game to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.
Explore your Values #hyperisland #skills #values #remote-friendly
Your Values is an exercise for participants to explore what their most important values are. It’s done in an intuitive and rapid way to encourage participants to follow their intuitive feeling rather than over-thinking and finding the “correct” values. It is a good exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.
In this leadership development activity, participants are asked to draw their own coat of arms symbolising the most important elements of their leadership philosophy. The coat of arms drawings are then debriefed and discussed together with the group.
Virtual leadership activities that include a visual outcome can be especially effective in engaging remote teams. Try this one in your next online leadership workshop to create something really memorable!
Your Leadership Coat of Arms #leadership #leadership development #skills #remote-friendly
In this leadership development activity, participants are asked to draw their own coat of arms symbolising the most important elements of their leadership philosophy. The coat of arms drawings are then debriefed and discussed together with the group.
After the exercise you may prepare a coat of arms gallery, exhibiting the leadership approach and philosophy of group members
Ensuring all members of a team are aligned when it comes to purpose and cultural values is one of the jobs of a leader. Teams and organizations that have a shared and cohesive vision are often happier and more productive and by helping a group arrive at these conclusions, a good leader can help empower everyone to succeed.
The Team Purpose & Culture method is also a great virtual leadership activity. You can run this method in online environments with ease and by creating a shared virtual resource in an online whiteboard or spreadsheet, you can enable your remote team too!
Every leader has an integral role in the formation of the teams they work with. Whether you are consciously working on it or not, your attitude and actions as a leader will significantly influence team cohesion and the team spirit of the people you work with.
This comes through in small everyday actions, the way you share responsibilities, the way you empower colleagues, and the way you foster a cooperative work environment as opposed to a competitive one.
You can benefit from using the following team building activities to give a focused teamwork experience to your group in your next leadership development workshop.
The Marshmallow Challenge is a team-building activity in which teams compete to build the tallest free-standing structure out of spaghetti sticks, tape, string, and the marshmallow that needs to be on the top. This activity emphasizes group communication, leadership dynamics, collaboration, and innovation and problem-solving strategies.
Marshmallow challenge with debriefing #teamwork #team #leadership #collaboration
In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest free-standing structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top.
The Marshmallow Challenge was developed by Tom Wujec, who has done the activity with hundreds of groups around the world. Visit the Marshmallow Challenge website for more information. This version has an extra debriefing question added with sample questions focusing on roles within the team.
The Crocodile River is a team-building activity in which group members need to support each other in a task to move from one end of a space to another. It requires working together creatively and strategically in order to solve a practical, physical problem. It tends to emphasize group communication, cooperation, leadership and membership, patience and problem-solving.
Crocodile River #hyperisland #team #outdoor
A team-building activity in which a group is challenged to physically support one another in an endeavour to move from one end of a space to another. It requires working together creatively and strategically in order to solve a practical, physical problem. It tends to emphasize group communication, cooperation, leadership and membership, patience and problem-solving.
Chinese Puzzle (Human Knot)
This is a simple game to help team members learn how to work together (better). It can also focus on the group’s understanding of communication, leadership, problem-solving, trust or persistence. Participants stand in a circle, close their eyes and put their hands into the circle to find two other hands to hold. Then they open their eyes and the group has to try to get back into a circle without letting go, though they can change their grip, of course.
Chinese Puzzle #energiser #icebreaker #team
Have your group stand up in a close circle (10 to 16 people is best). They close their eyes put their hands into the circle and find two hands and hold on. Then they open their eyes and the group has to try to get back into a circle without letting go, though they can change their grip, of course.
Leaders are usually viewed as the parents of the organization. It is expected from them that they take care of their people and make sure that proper norms and rules are followed. One of the key areas where a leader has a large influence is the style and amount of communication between people.
Active Listening and giving effective feedback are critical skills to have as a leader but are also crucial for your team members. In fact, the issue that leaders rank as one of the biggest barriers to successful leadership is avoiding tough conversations, including giving honest, constructive feedback.
Develop good communication practices with the following leadership games and activities.
This activity supports participants in reflecting on a question and generating their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with this activity. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being “the subject” who will explore a question, “the listener” who is supposed to be totally focused on the subject, and “the observer” who will watch the dynamic between the other two.
Active Listening #hyperisland #skills #active listening #remote-friendly
This activity supports participants to reflect on a question and generate their own solutions using simple principles of active listening and peer coaching. It’s an excellent introduction to active listening but can also be used with groups that are already familiar with it. Participants work in groups of three and take turns being: “the subject”, the listener, and the observer.
Every time you work together with someone, your trust battery – the trust you have towards a certain person, or the ‘emotional credit’ that person has in your eyes – either charges or depletes based on things like whether you deliver on what you promise and the social interaction you exhibit. A low trust battery is the core of many personal issues at the workplace.
This self-assessment activity allows you and your team members to reflect on the ‘trust battery’ they individually have towards each person on the team and encourages focus on actions that can charge the depleted trust batteries. It also works great when promoting virtual leadership and working with online teams!
Trust Battery #leadership #teamwork #team #remote-friendly
This self-assessment activity allows you and your team members to reflect on the ‘trust battery’ they individually have towards each person on the team, and encourages focus on actions that can charge the depleted trust batteries.
Regular and constructive feedback is one of the most important ingredients for effective teams. Openness creates trust, and trust creates more openness. This is an activity for teams that have worked together for some time and are familiar with giving and receiving feedback. The objective of Start, Stop, Continue is to examine aspects of a situation or develop next steps by polling people on what to start, what to stop and what to continue doing.
For those in charge of online leadership, it’s vital to find ways of having difficult conversations in constructive ways virtually – try this method when working to resolve issues with your distributed team!
Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue #hyperisland #skills #feedback #remote-friendly
Regular, effective feedback is one of the most important ingredients in building constructive relationships and thriving teams. Openness creates trust and trust creates more openness. Feedback exercises aim to support groups to build trust and openness and for individuals to gain self-awareness and insight. Feedback exercises should always be conducted with thoughtfulness and high awareness of group dynamics. This is an exercise for groups or teams that have worked together for some time and are familiar with giving and receiving feedback. It uses the words “stop”, “start” and “continue” to guide the feedback messages.
All leaders know the value of structured and considered reflection. Teams that take the time to reflect and improve are those that can grow and by creating an environment of reflection, team leaders and managers can help their group move forward together.
This method is effective for both offline and virtual leadership development. It helps a group progress from individual reflection through to full group discussion in a way that encourages constructive thought and minimizes potential frustration or antagonistic conversation.
One of the most important leadership skills you’ll want to develop is the ability to mediate and resolve team conflicts. Even the most connected and effective teams can run into conflict and it will fall to managers and team leaders to help get things back on track.
Even for established leaders, navigating conflict can be difficult! These leadership development activities are designed to help groups manage and resolve conflicts more effectively.
Giving leaders a framework they can trust and use with their team right away is always a good use of time, and we’d recommend teaching these methods to all new leaders!
It’s easy to get lost in the woods when it comes to managing conflict. Helping a group see what happened objectively and without judgment is an important leadership skill, and this framework helps make this process easy.
Start by working with the group to collect facts about what happened before moving towards making sense of them. Once everywhere has been heard and given space to process these facts, you can then move towards suggesting practical actions. By following this kind of framework, you can manage a conflict in a pragmatic way that also ensures everyone in a group can contribute.
All of us can be guilty of handling conflicts in a less than ideal manner. Part of developing as a leader is identifying when something didn’t go well before finding ways to do things better next time.
In this leadership activity, ask the group to provide examples of previous conflicts and then reflect on how they handled them. Next, ask everyone to reflect on how they might change their behavior for a better outcome in the future. As a leader, use this opportunity to lead the way and be honest and vulnerable. It’s your role to provide a model for interaction and its always worthwhile to see how you can do better as a people manager dealing with conflict too!
Finding opportunities to reframe conflict as an opportunity to solve problems and create clarity is a very useful leadership quality. Often, conflict is a signifier of a deeper problem and so finding ways to surface and work on these issues as a team is a great way to move forward and bring a group together too.
In this leadership activity, start by asking the group to reflect on the central metaphor of bright to blind issues or topics, based on whether the problem is out in the open or unknown. Next, invite small groups to ideate on what issues facing the team are bright, blurry, or blind and then discuss them as a group. By working together to illuminate what is blurry or blind, you can create a one-team mentality and start resolving problems that can lead to conflict too.
All leaders will need to give effective feedback in order to help their team develop and do great work. The best leaders also solicit feedback from their direct reports and use this is an opportunity to grow. But how can you teach these feedback skills and help leaders develop this important skill?
Check out our Effective Feedback Workshop template for a complete agenda you can use to develop this leadership skill. You’ll find a ready-to-go workshop with a guide and PowerPoint presentation you can use to help anyone in a leadership role give and receive better feedback.
I hope you have found some useful tips for leadership development workshops above. Now we’d love to hear from you!
What are your favorite leadership workshop ideas and training exercises for leadership development? Did you incorporate any of them into your facilitation practice?
Have you tried any of the activities above? Let us know about your experiences in the comments.