7 unexpected leadership training strategies that actually work

In our increasingly complex economy, great business leaders are more important than ever. Gone are the days when a sole employee could work in insolation. Instead, businesses are relying more and more on intra-connected teams that pull together a wide range of personalities, skillsets, and experiences. A business leader is that rare person who can offer cohesion and clarity to teams. Like a master conductor, leaders bring out the best in each member while producing an incredible shared result.

How can businesses mold their next leaders? After all, leadership isn’t something you can learn from a book or in a classroom. Smart businesses cultivate leadership skills through mentorships, leadership programs, and leadership training.

What does leadership training look like? Forget about boring lectures. We encourage businesses to think outside the box and set up leadership training activities that will challenge their employees to flex their leadership muscles. That means developing leadership skills, including active listening, delegation, empathy, and teamwork. With these goals in mind, here are seven unexpected (read: exciting) leadership training activities that can help you grow your company’s future leaders.

1. The human knot

Start off your leadership training session with this fun and challenging game. Have your participants stand in a circle and tell them to hold the right hand of someone in the circle who isn’t standing next to them. Repeat with the left hand. Now, challenge your “human knot” to untangle themselves without letting go of their hands. Step back and watch the fun begin.

Leadership skills this activity promotes: Communication, patience, problem-solving, teamwork

Download our ebook: The collaborative workplace: improving employee engagement

2. Minefield

Create a minefield course in the office or offsite. Your “mines” can be anything from sheets of paper to plastic cones. Scatter them around the area and then pair up your participants. Blindfold one participant and instruct the non-blindfolded team member to guide their partner through the minefield only using words. To make this activity more challenging, limit what the guide can say to “right,” “left,” “forward,” or “backward.”

Leadership skills this activity promotes: Communication, trust-building, decision-making

Additional reading: 6 reasons corporate leadership training fails – and how you can fix it

3. Your favorite leaders

Challenge your participants to do some deep thinking. Ask them to come up with two or three of the leaders they admire most. These can be living people or past leaders and can be business people, politicians, military generals, activists, or anyone else. Now, ask your participants to write down the personality traits that made their role model a great leader. Put your participants into groups and discuss. For bonus points, challenge your participants to determine what character traits they share with their leadership role models and where they differ.

Leadership skills this activity promotes: Contemplation, big-picture thinking

Additional reading: Effective management strategies that increase employee retention

4. In the other person’s shoes


Ask each of your participants to recall an instance of interpersonal conflict they experienced in a past job. If they can’t think of one, ask them to think of a conflict they experienced at school or everyday life. Now, encourage your participants to put themselves in the shoes of the other person and explain the situation from their point of view. Put your participants into groups to discuss the incident and the perspective of both parties.

Leadership skills this activity promotes: Contemplation, conflict resolution, empathy, thoughtfulness

Additional reading: 7 surprising reasons why team building games are good for business

5. Plane crash

To lighten things up, split your participants into groups. Explain that they’ve crashed on an island and need to look for shelter. The group can only take ten things from the “plane” (i.e. the office) with them. Step back and allow the group to decide which items to take and which to leave. To make the experience more interesting (especially if you are offsite), bring a box of supplies for the group to choose from. Set a timer for ten minutes. The group must come to a consensus by the end of the time limit.

Leadership skills this activity promotes: Communication, patience, teamwork, compromise

Additional reading: 5 corporate team building activities to try with your coworkers

6. Time to listen

Develop a list of challenging-yet-realistic workplace scenarios. You can even look up popular business case studies. Pair off your participants. Participant A will present the scenario to Participant B and encourage them to come up with a solution to the problem. The job of Participant A is only to listen to Participant B and help them work through the problem. Participant A should refrain from offering their own opinions.

Leadership skills this activity promotes: Active listening, patience, understanding

Additional reading: 5 companies that excel at employee engagement

7. Accepting group feedback

A strong leader understands the value of authentic feedback. They recognize the need to hear from their team and to make changes based on the expertise of others. For this last activity, divide your participants into teams and assign a leader. Instruct the leaders to review current systems, programs, and projects within the company and to solicit feedback. Poll Everywhere allows you to gather anonymous feedback instantly. The group leader should actively listen to the feedback, encourage suggestions to overcome problems, and work with the group to decide on the next action items. This is a great chance for leaders to open their minds, trust in their team, and make important decisions that can improve the way the company functions.

Leadership skills this activity promotes: Communication, trust-building, active listening, decision making

Additional reading: Insightful questions to ask at your next all-hands meeting

These innovative leadership training activities can help push your employees out of their comfort zones and encourage them to work on the traits that will help them be excellent managers one day. For more insight into building and managing an effective and collaborative remote team, holding more efficient meetings, and scaling your company culture, download our ebook.

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