Leadership is not an academic pursuit. Leaders aren’t working in the abstract, but rather in the here and now. They are thrown into situations and must act. Their success is not based on clever interpretations of famous quotes or methodologies, but on unifying a group to achieve a common goal.
That doesn’t mean that book smarts are a waste of time. By all means, read about what makes a great leader, but temper that cerebral exercise with something you can really sink your teeth into. We’re talking leadership games. Yes, games.
Games are fun, but they’re also about stealth learning. You learn better when you’re engaged, and what’s more engaging than having a good time? The following leadership games can both make you a better leader, and improve the leadership qualities of your team members.
1. Pass the Hoop
This game involves having a group stand in a circle and hold hands. One of the people in the circle has a hula hoop around their arm. Now, try to pass that hula hoop all the way around the circle.
You can see what this activity works to strengthen, right? Certainly teamwork, which is crucial for any leader, as they’re not working in a vacuum. There’s problem solving, too. But most importantly, communication, which might be the most fundamental skill for any successful leader to have.
2. Maneuver the Minefield
First, blindfold one person in the group. Then, set up an obstacle course or minefield around them. Next, establish a limited set of words that can be said to help direct the blindfolded person through the minefield. For example, just four words: left, right, forward, back.
The object of this leadership game is to guide the blindfolded person through the minefield without incident. You can do this in the office or outside on a company retreat, but either way you’re going to develop your communications skills and one of the more elusive leadership bonds — trust.
3. Stand Up
Here’s a simple one that requires no props. You need only two people, who are sitting on the floor. They face one another, with the soles of their feet together and holding hands. The object of this game is to have both players stand up at the same time. It’s a great way to develop teamwork and trust, while working on problem solving and collaboration.
4. Improv Night
Improvisation is a good way to get a team to bond, which is one of the responsibilities of a leader. Improv helps with communication, self-awareness, self-confidence and creativity. Plus, it helps you pay attention and listen better.
Set up an audience and a group to perform. In the classic improv set up, have the audience shout out a location, a profession and a situation (like coffeehouse, cop and buying a donut). Whatever you choose, it’ll be silly, educational and sure to get the creative juices flowing.
Related: 10 Super Fun Team Bonding Games
5. Desert Island
What objects would you want to have if you had to survive on a desert island? Break up into teams and have them choose five items that they all can agree are essential to their survival.
We’re not talking about your favorite album or book, but life-or-death decision-making, which will illustrate people’s priorities and also show how willing they are to compromise and work together for the greater good. It’s a great exercise to learn how to work with limitations, and it involves planning, risk-taking and communications, all the basic skills of leading a project.
6. Shape Shifting
You’ll need a rope, one that has been tied at both ends into a loop. It should be large enough for everyone to hold with both hands while they stand together in a circle. Now, tell the group to make a shape, such as a circle, square, triangle, etc. The group then tries to put the rope on the floor in that shape.
Repeat this and add complexity, asking them to make more difficult shapes, such as a horse, chicken, etc. Only the catch is, now they must communicate non-verbally, only with hand gestures. As you continue, remove even the hand gestures for communication. When done, discuss the experience and explain the importance of communication.
7. Leadership Crest
Some people might not have a family crest, but everyone knows what they are: a visual representation of that clan’s strengths. It’s something that explains the family. Apply that same idea to leadership, and have everyone make a crest that represents the values, beliefs and ideas of a great leader.
Have them break the crest or coat of arms into four categories, leadership skills, values that help influence others, recent accomplishments and what you like most about your current work. Which section was easiest? Does anything there reveal something about you that others might not know? Are the company’s values reflected on the crest?
This game focuses on an often overlooked leadership quality, alignment. It’s important to have your values align with your accomplishments and your companies values.
8. You’re a Poet, and You Didn’t Know It
Writing a poem is a great way to stretch one’s creativity and explore leadership concepts. You can write the poem yourself or break into small groups, each with the task to think about leadership in nonlinear ways to discover new perspectives.
Related: 30 Team Building Activities
To offer a bit of direction, require that the poem relate to the five senses, have action words and discuss abstractions. But when choosing words, make sure they’re specific, meaningful to you and, of course, poetic (musical and pleasing). Afterwards, have a group discussion and see what surprising ideas were revealed.
9. Leaders You Love
There are many great leaders in every field and era, with plenty of leadership styles ranging from transformational to transactional. We can learn from that history. Often our sights are set on specific leadership skills that resonate with us, but that myopic view can leave other important attributes in the shadows.
So, get a few small groups together and have them discuss leaders they know or admire and why. Then get everyone together and talk about leadership with the examples they culled in the smaller groups. Not only will the results be enlightening, it’ll help the group bond.
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