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12 Effective Leadership Activities and Games

Leadership development activities

More and more people are asked to lead teams nowadays in the workplace, yet the path to becoming a good leader is a long one.

Practical leadership activities are a great benefit toward that path, whether you perform them yourself with your own team or with an external facilitator.

Leaders have both a big influence and responsibility for their teams. Some of the aspects they need to pay attention to are:

  • Setting the climate of a workplace
  • Inspiring team members
  • Setting values for their team
  • Improving team spirit and cohesion
  • Being responsible for their team’s communication and wellbeing

These are no small responsibilities, and leadership skills do not necessarily come naturally for everyone. Dedicated work, self-awareness and being committed to personal growth is really important for gradually mastering leadership skills.

There are a number of tools to help you with leadership development. Coaching, peer support circles, and leadership development training can all help one to become a better leader.

Below you will find a list of activities that we find particularly effective for practicing and strengthening your leadership and team-building skills.

Activities and Games for Leadership Development

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.

  • Leadership Envelopes
    • In this leadership activity, participants work in groups to translate leadership principles into practical on-the-job behaviours.
  • Your favourite Manager
    • Use empathy as a tool by taking the perspective of different employees and then reflect on positive and negative managerial behaviours.
  • Leadership Pizza
    • This simple leadership development framework asks each individual to think about what skills and attitudes they find most important in leadership and assess themselves before setting individual development goals.
  • Leadership Advice from your Role Model
    • This structured sharing activity invites people to think of a role model and discuss the leadership principles they observe in them.
  • Explore Your Values
    • This activity helps you identify and explore your own and your team’s most important values. It is a good exercise for initiating reflection and dialogue around personal values.
  • Your Leadership Coat of Arms
    • In this leadership building activity, participants reflect on their leadership philosophy and draw their own coat of arms symbolising the most important values guiding their leadership approach.
  • Marshmallow Challenge
    • The Marshmallow Challenge is a popular team-building activity in which teams compete to build the tallest free-standing structure with a set of specific materials. The towers need to be able to hold the weight of a marshmallow.
  • Crocodile River
    • This is a simple outdoor team building game where team members need to work together and support each other as they cross an imaginary river filled with crocodiles.
  • Chinese Puzzle
    • This group game is applicable both as an icebreaker and as an exercise to focus on teamwork and collaboration. The idea is to untangle a large human knot participants have created with their interlocking hands.
  • Active Listening
    • This activity helps to improve active listening – an essential skill for any leader. Participants take turns practising active listening and peer coaching.
  • Trust Battery
    • This activity helps in recognising relationships at the workplace that may suffer from lack of trust and encourages team members to take actions to build trust.
  • Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue
    • This exercise provides a very practical framework for regular and effective feedback within teams. As a leader, you can help your team members get constructive feedback in a timely manner.

Let’s see where do these leadership development activities help and how to apply them.

Leaders determine the climate of a workplace

Leaders are role models to their colleagues and organization. Their working style, principles and values determine the culture that drives their organization’s behaviour.

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 as the norm, also affects which kind of behaviours are enforced and celebrated and which behaviours are punished.

The following activities can help you in recognising important leadership behaviours that result in a productive workplace.

Leadership Envelopes

This leadership activity helps groups translate abstract leadership principles into practical on-the-job behaviours. 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 behaviours.

Leadership Envelopes #leadership #explore and understand #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.

Your Favourite Manager

In this activity, participants take on three different employee personas and list the behaviours 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.

My Favourite Manager #management #leadership #thiagi #action #teamwork 

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.

Leadership Pizza

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.

Leadership Pizza #leadership #team 

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.

Leaders inspire others

Great leaders inspire others. It is one of the most important leadership traits. However, there are many different reasons why someone will find a leader inspirational. In order to grasp what facilitates inspiring leadership, try the following exercise:

Leadership Advice from your Role Model

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.

Leader set the values of a team

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, try these activities:

Explore Your Values

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 exercise to use to initiate reflection and dialogue around personal values.

Explore your Values #hyperisland #skills #values 

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.

Your Leadership Coat of Arms

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.

Your Leadership Coat of Arms #leadership #leadership development #skills 

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

Leaders facilitate team building

Every leader has an integral role in the formations 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 team:

Marshmallow challenge

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 

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.

Crocodile River

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 #ice breaker #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 responsible for their team communication

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 is 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 activities:

Active Listening

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 

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.

Trust battery

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.

Trust Battery #leadership #teamwork #team 

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.

Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue

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.

Feedback: Start, Stop, Continue #hyperisland #skills #feedback 

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.

Now over to you…

I hope you have found some useful tips for leadership development activities above. Now we’d love to hear from you.

What are your favourite workshop ideas and training exercises for leadership development?

Have you tried any of the activities above? Let us know about your experiences in the comments.

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