leadership gamesRetreats are a popular way for schools and other organizations to teach lessons in leadership. Through organized activities, participants attain first-hand experience in leading a group. Under the guise of fun and challenging games, leadership skills are adopted and trained. Furthermore, placed in the larger context of a group, participants can identify their personal strengths and learn how best to contribute. Whether it’s for students or adults, consider the following leadership games to spark insight and strengthen your group:

Trust Building Leadership Games

At the start, consider planning smaller, shorter exercises as opposed to large group endeavors. In trust building games, participants pair up and take turns “leading” the other through a task or challenge. For example, in the popular game Mine Field, participants must verbally lead their blindfolded partners through a field of obstacles. This type of game teaches more fundamental leadership lessons, as participants must lead on the individual level.

To set up a game of Mine Field, designate a medium-sized area (around 12’ by 12’) and scatter various obstacles on the ground. Use objects of various shapes and sizes such as golf balls, batons and frisbees (or, for an indoor setting, consider using office supplies). Also be sure to mark the boundaries of the area.

With their eyes closed or blindfolded, participants must cross the minefield without stepping on any obstacles or going outside the area. Partners must guide with verbal directions. If any rules are broken, the pair must start over again.

Other trust building games can accommodate smaller spaces and shorter schedules. In the game Blind Waiter, a blindfolded participant must use a pitcher to fill four glasses of water guided only by the words of their partner (or for adults, wine). In another variation, partners must help their teammates un-set a mousetrap.

Unlike larger group games where a single person often emerges as a leader, trust building exercises give everyone a turn in the leadership position, as well as the role of being guided. Thus, it is a great way to start before venturing into larger group games and discussions.

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Group Building Leadership Games

This next set of games will bring the group together to achieve a collective goal. For example in Line Up group members must sort themselves by an attribute (height, birthday, etc.). Set up is easy, as it only requires a demarcated line. The catch is, once participants are on the line, they cannot leave. Thus the group must immediately develop a plan and stay organized to win the game.

Another powerful group building game is called Helium Stick. In this game, the group forms two even lines a foot and a half apart. The two groups turn to face each other and hold out their index fingers at waist-height. The retreat organizer proceeds to place a very long aluminum pole on top of their fingers (the kind used to set up camping tents). The task is for the group to lower the stick to the ground with all fingers touching. If anybody’s finger leaves the stick, the group must start over.

While it may sound simple, Helium Stick is actually a very difficult game. It requires careful balance and synchronization to ensure no fingers lose touch. With larger groups, the task can take up to an hour. Often, a single group member must emerge as leader before progress is made.

Training Leadership Styles

In both Line Up and Helium Stick effort is required from each and every participant to win. However, a different type of activity involves more open-ended tasks – like building a tower from construction paper – where individuals can weigh in with different levels of effort. Such an activity is great opportunity to demonstrate the various leadership styles.

First, divide participants into three groups and have each designate a leader. Then, gather the leaders in private and assign each a leadership style: Autocratic being one who personally makes all decisions; Laissez-faire being a passive leader who doesn’t interfere in group decisions and Democratic being one who seeks input from all members evenly.

When the task is complete, reveal which styles were assigned to the group leaders. Follow it up with a discussion on how the game went: Was the task completed quickly and effectively? Were group members happy with their level of participation?

The idea is to weigh the pros and cons of each style and discuss when one is more appropriate than another. It gives participants a multifaceted and critical understanding of leadership. Combined with the lessons learned from your trust and group building activities, your team will be well informed and prepared to tackle its daily challenges.

Are there other leadership games that you find to be fun and effective?  Please share your thoughts with us by posting a comment below.


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