Practical leadership activities for Coaches, Consultants and Trainers.
Every business needs to grow more leaders. Here are 10 of the best activities you can facilitate to inspire personal transformation – at every levelGrow More Leaders
Why does leadership development really matter?
If the predictions are right, we will see more transformation in the next 20 years than the whole of the last 200 years. Big forces are coming into play: AI, robotics, electric cars, driverless cars, climate change, hybrid working, gene therapy, the internet of things, 5G, cryptocurrencies, nanotechnology, the green economy….the list is endless.
What does all of this eman? More change. More uncertainty. More unpredictability. More opportunities. Businesses and organisations need leaders at every level. They need employees who are willing to take intelligent risks, make things happen, embrace change – not walk the other way or seek to be managed.
It takes all of us to step-up and lead, if we’re to build thriving organisations and places of work that replenish us, give work meaning and put a smile on our face.
Here are 10 leadership activities you can use to design highly impactful, experiential programmes. These have all been tried and tested by my team and I – in a range of cultures and organisations. One thing is certain – wherever you go people are people – with similar dreams, hopes and aspirations. You can decide how to combine these activities, where you take your workshop participants on a journey of growth, self-discovery and personal transformation. Use your own stories and experiences to bring each activity to life (read our blog on the 10 best leadership stories). Remember, the key is to facilitate the workshop – not train people in leadership models and frameworks.
1. The Crucible Activity
The Purpose: This powerful activity helps individuals recognise they have acquired real leadership skills and qualities in their life – even though they may not see it that way. Leadership is all about character, courage, compassion and overcoming adversity. This is the essence of a crucible event – a challenging experience which has shaped your character, beliefs and values. Leadership starts with self-awareness and committing to self-improvement and self-learning every single day. This activity gets people recognising they have more to offer in leading themselves and leading others – even though they may not have a leadership title or role.
Every high and every low in our lives offers us a leadership experience. A moment of truth where we can either let that setback define us or we can let that setback offer us valuable learning. We don’t need to be defined by our past. What we can do is to take the learning and to apply it to how we live our tomorrows.
- Look back on your life and write down all the events that have shaped who you are. The events can be ‘highs’ in your life or ‘lows’ in your life.
- Look back on them in a detached way and ask yourself: what did this life event teach me? How am I stronger and wiser as a result of this experience?
- Only share as much or as little as you want.
- The whole idea is you place the emphasis not so much on the event. But what that event taught you. How has this experience allowed you to lead yourself and lead your family/life with purpose and clarity?
- Take a sheet of flipchart and plot the highs and lows in the form of a timeline.
- You can label the experiences A,B,C…without having to go into too much detail
- The key is to highlight the top 1,2 or 3 life lessons his experience taught you. How you believe this experience has made you stronger, when you look back on it today through the eyes of wisdom not regret or anger.
- Colleagues work in smaller groups. They agree confidentiality
- Each individual has 10 minutes to share their flipchart, followed by 15 minutes worth of coaching from their peers.
- The coaching is all about asking high quality questions. Not so much on the event that happened. But how they have applied the learning into their lives and how they are leading themselves and their lives with greater confidence and clarity.
- The final question is: how are you bringing this leadership strength into your role, or what more could you be doing, so you consistently show-up as the best version of yourself.
When set-up in the right place – when colleagues have psychological safety and understand why they’re completing this activity, this can be highly inspiring, liberating and emotionally charged – for the right reasons. It gives colleagues licence to lead, to shine and to thrive at work.
2. The Mount Everest Activity
What if every employee defined their own Mount Everest: a landmark goal they would deliver and in doing so, grow, develop and stretch themselves? A ‘Mount Everest’ is something that scares you and excites you in equal measure. This activity achieves two outcomes. Allows everyone to identify one thing they can lead AND the behaviours they need to role model to ascend their Mount Everest. This activity is about providing every employee with focus, clarity and some inspiration on how they can make a difference, regardless of their position, job title or pay grade.
Identify a landmark goal. Something ambitious. Something that will make a difference to your customers, or your team or your organisation. Something that will help your organisation standout. This Mount Everest could already be something you are doing – but you turbo-charge it. Or it could be something new. It can help if you’ve asked workshop participants to have discussed their Mount Everest with their Manager. But the key is, their Mount Everest is something they care about and is not simply something delegated to them by their Manager.
Each individual takes two sheets of flipchart and completes the following imagery in landscape format:
- They draw a mountain and at the peak they write a description of their Mount Everest
- They create some boulders on the mountain. These are the three big challenges they will need to overcome to climb the peak
- They create a stick person at the base of the mountain. They write down the leadership behaviours they will need to role model if they’re to overcome the obstacles and successfully climb their own Mount Everest.
- This visual storyboard provides the starting point for the next part of this activity.
- Colleagues work in smaller groups of 4-6 (depending on time available and numbers)
- Each individual takes it in turn to discuss their storyboard – no more than 10-minutes
- The other peers take a further 10 minutes to ask coaching questions on ‘the how’. “How will you overcome the obstacles…how will you influence others….how will you make the time to focus on this….how will you measure success…etc…
- In the final 5 minutes the individual summarises the things that they have found most helpful and how the coaching has helped them to move forward with clarity and confidence
- After 30 minutes, the next colleague shares their storyboard.
This activity ensures every individual has identified a worthwhile goal which will inspire them and provide them with valuable learning.
3. ‘My Super-Powers’ Activity
Every employee has their unique signature strengths. The gifts, qualities and attributes that allow them to do their best work. Yet too often, employees feel unable or unwilling to bring these strengths to work. Perhaps they’re not encouraged to do so, they’re not clear on what their signature strengths are or they don’t know how to express them fully at work. Personal leadership becomes a reality when every individual is able to bring the best version of themselves to work and in doing so, undertake meaningful work.
Each workshop participant is asked to seek feedback from at least 5 people they trust – on what do you see as my ‘super powers’? What are the skills, behaviours or qualities you see as being my signature strengths? They have a conversation with these five individuals to get more colour and depth on their feedback, which is not always possible with written feedback. This activity works best when participants give at least 48 hours notice to those they’re seeking feedback from.
- On the workshop, each individual consolidates the feedback and picks out the key patterns and themes
- They identify their 3 ‘super powers’ and bring this to life as fully as they can by describing what good looks like
- Colleagues work in coaching for 20 minutes and share with each other their three super powers and what good looks like
- They discuss to what extent each super-power was used at work in the last 3 months (where 1 is low and 10 is maximum)
- And for each strength what do they need to do to improve their score by at least 2 steps eg 7 to 8 and 8 to 9
- In part 2, each individual creates a summary on flipchart of their 3 signature strengths and the things they will do to let each strength shine. They will focus on the things within their control
- In part 3, each individual shares their flipchart with a smaller group of peers. Specifically, they talk about how the team will benefit by expressing their top 3 strengths and how they will personally benefit by doing so (eg feeling more motivated, feeling challenges, feeling they’re giving of their best, etc)
This is a low risk but high reward activity. It shines a light on what each individual can bring to the team and the strengths they can bring for the benefit of the team and the wider organisation.
4. Reaching New Heights Activity
Personal leadership is founded on a growth mindset. More specifically, all leadership starts with self leadership. We can all be pilots of our lives, our choices and the attitude we choose – especially when we encounter adversity. This activity focuses on how we can build personal development into our everyday lives, so we continue to grow and thrive.
A personal development plan is not worth the paper it is written on, if it does not stir us to take action or inspire us to be 1% better than yesterday. This simple activity is designed around a powerful metaphor – of a hot air balloon. A hot-air balloon is able to reach new heights when tree dynamics are at play.
1. It gets lift from the air in the balloon.
2. It is only able to get height when the ropes holding it back are cut.
3. It maintains height when new air keeps the hot air balloon inflated.
The same is true for us. We reach new heights when we elevate our strengths. We get lift when we cut the limitations holding us back. We reach new heights when we continually top-up our learning with fresh insights and inspiration.
- Individuals create a draft version of a hot air balloon. The balloon represents their strengths. The two ropes holding the balloon down to the ground, represent the two main things holding them back. Next to the burner on the hot air balloon they write down new behaviours they need to implement if they’re to reach new heights.
- To give depth to this activity you can ask participants to attend with some form of feedback. Either formal 360-degree feedback or informal feedback from at least 5 people they trust and respect. The feedback is specially: the two things you view as my signature strengths and the one thing if I improved would help me to be even better at what I do.
- Participants work with a buddy to help bring more depth and sharpness to their draft personal development plan. Eg the strength: I’m a good communicator – is too broad and not specific enough. It can better be written as: ‘I’m able to adapt my communication style to the needs of my audience, resulting in getting their buy-in and support”.
- By working in pairs colleagues help each other finesse and fine tune their hot air balloon descriptions
- Once they’re happy they’ve got enough depth and substance, they create their finalised hot air balloon on flipchart. The heading is ‘How I can reach new heights’
- Each individual works with a smaller group, where colleagues take it in turns to share their hot air balloon (10 mins) followed by a further 10 minutes of peer-to-peer coaching – specially on ‘the how’.
At the end of this activity, participants not only have a well thought through personal development plan. But the context is how they can reach new heights by role modelling self-leadership. It also means colleagues can continue to coach and encourage each other, beyond the workshop.
5. My Best Year Yet Activity
They say the best way to shape the future is to write it. This is precisely what this activity does. The key question participants answer is: ‘What does my best year yet look like when it comes to my achievements, my working relationships and my personal wellbeing’. The timeline activity is where colleagues visualise what they will achieve and how they will implement things.
Participants are asked to reflect on the key question at least 48 hours ahead of attending the workshop: ‘What does my best year yet look like when it comes to my achievements, my working relationships and my personal wellbeing’. You can adapt this question as you see fit.
- On the workshop participants are shown some videos and listen to snippets of podcasts, of how people go about creating their best year yet
- Facilitate a conversation on what did participants find helpful, what inspired them, what lessons could they apply to the pre-work they have done
- Participants then add and refine hat their best year yet will look like
- Participants work in smaller learning sets. Doing this activity outdoors and in nature makes it even more impactful.
- Each colleague takes it in turn to walk 12 steps. Each step represents a month. Once they’ve paced 12 steps they articulate to their peers their best year yet: their achievements, their working relationships and their personal wellbeing
- They then look back and step into month 9 and describe where they are in their journey. What they have achieved, the quality of their relationships and their personal well being.
- They then go back 6 months and repeat this same activity
- They then go back 3 months and repeat this same activity
- They then go back to day 1 (now) and describe the decisions they need to make, the commitments they need to make to ensure they achieve their 3-month picture of success
This activity brings personal leadership to life. It’s a very graphic and motivational way for participants to define their best year yet. As Walt Disney famously said ‘if you can imagine it, you can do it’. This activity makes this a colourful and meaningful experience.
6. The CEO of my Career Activity
Employees are more likely to thrive and deliver their best work when they have a sense of belonging. Helping employees to become CEO of their career development is an effective way of boosting motivation, retention and belonging. In situations where employees feel they can grow and do their best work, they are more likely to lead themselves and lead their peers through change and transformation.
Career progression in the new world does not mean promotion. It means taking on challenges which offer valuable development and enhance your marketability. The only sure-fire way of having a successful career is to keep developing skills and capabilities which are in demand. This means both hard skills and soft skills.
Participants attend the workshop having reflected on these four questions:
- What do you really ENJOY about your current role, you would not want to lose in any future role?
- What DON’T you enjoy, you would gladly lose?
- What DON’T YOU HAVE, you would want in any future role
- How can you achieve no3, in your current role?
- Participants go for a ‘walk and talk’ with a buddy. 30 minutes being coached and 30 minutes being the coach
- Participants are introduced to ‘pull style’ coaching and are given a short example of pull-style coaching. The Facilitator seeks a volunteer and works through a live challenge. The role of the Facilitator is simply to ask high quality questions and allow the individual to arrive at their own solutions
- The other participants observe the Facilitator and provide evidence-based feedback: what did they notice, what was the structure, what were examples of high quality questions
- This then sets participants up to have an open and honest conversation, specifically on how I can become CEO of my career development by understanding how I can re-design and re-imagine my current role, to offer me the skills development I may be seeking from my next role.
This activity is powerful in a number of ways. It helps participants identify how they can start to develop their career in their current role. It shines a light on how to keep acquiring marketable skills, rather than job titles or positions.
7. The Circle of Influence Activity
No one can succeed in isolation. We have to nurture our network of trust. These are colleagues, stakeholders, senior players, customers who know, like and trust you. And as a result of this, are willing to go out of their way to help you succeed. This is the basis of Dale Carnegie’s best seller: How to win friends and influence people.
The more senior you become the more reliant you become on others for your success. Even as a Specialist, without any direct reports, your success is still dependent on getting information and collaboration from peers and others in your network. Too often people don’t prioritise these working relationships. Too often they adopt the attitude ‘I’ll contact them when I need something’. Or ‘these people are busy and they don’t want to be hassled or distrurbed by me’. The end result is relationship building and proactive networking becomes an after-thought. And this comes with unintended consequences.
Ask workshop participants to think about their big goals. These could be business goals. Personal development goals. Career development goals. Either way, ask participants to begin thinking of the help and support they need from their circle of influence. What are the top 5-8 relationships they need to proactively nurture – to help these individuals achieve their goals and vice versa.
- Participants take a sheet of paper and create a circle in the centre of the page and they place their name on it
- They create an outer circle, where they place the names of the 5-8 critical relationships they need to manage and nurture
- They draw a line from their name to the individual in the outer circle and rate the strength of the working relationship right now. 10: it can not be any stronger. 5: effective. 1: low trust or lack of a working relationship
- They identify the 2-3 individuals with the lowest score or the relationships they beliew need to be strengthened the most and then figure out: what do I need to do to take this working relationship to the next level?
- They also identify: how can I support this individual to achieve their goals?
- Participants work in smaller groups and each takes it in turn to share their circle of influence flipchart. After 10 minutes maximum for sharing, they allow a further 10 minutes for peer-to-peer coaching on ‘the how’. ‘How will you make the time…how will you reach out this key individual……how will you identify what support they need from you….how will you ask for their commitment…’, etc
- Peers also have an opportunity to share their on top tips of how best to engage or influence an individual – based on their own experience of working with them
This simple activity helps bring clarity to the invaluable life skills of networking and influencing. Each individual leaves with a personalised strategy of how to secure the goodwill of the key people in their circle of influence. They also get to learn from their peers the tips and tactics they deploy to win friends and influence others.
8. The Circle of Trust Activity
Feedback gets a poor press. Too often we associate feedback with ‘let me tell you what you’ve got wrong’. Managers are often time-poor and don’t provide effective and timely feedback. Too often employees can go months without any feedback or recognition. This is bad for personal growth and bad for morale and motivation – and the challenge this activity solves.
This works best for an intact team, a leadership team or project team – where colleagues have worked with each other for at least 6 months. This also works well as an activity on a leadership programme where peers have got to know each other over a period of time. This is a classic closing activity on many of our leadership programmes.
We place on a flipchart the following:
- What do you respect, admire and value about this colleague?
- What strengths do you see in them – they may not see in themselves – which you would like to encourage and nurture
- We place names of all the participants in a bowl and we then set the activity up
- Each individual will have 5 minutes of feedback from their peers (the circle of trust). They will focus on the two questions on the flipchart.
- One colleague will record the feedback or write the feedback on their behalf.
- Each colleagues does their own personal reflection for all the other people in the circle of trust: what do I admire and value about them and what strengths do I see in them, they may not see in themselves
- Typically we allow 2-3 minutes of thinking and reflection time for each peer/colleague
- The team bring their seats together in the form of a circle. This activity can be done inside or outside in nature.
- One colleague draws a name out of the bowl.
- A volunteer is asked to take notes for this colleague or take a video of the feedback being shared – so colleagues can refer to this over the days and weeks ahead
- The Facilitator keeps time and asks the group to share their feedback – maximum of 5 minutes
- As people go around the room, they are only asked to share feedback and observations on the things that have not already been shared.
- So each person is adding colour, depth and richness to the person before
- The person receiving the feedback can share their feelings about the feedback they have received – although this is optional.
Done well, this is an amazing and emotional activity. The focus of the feedback is to provide recognition and strengths based feedback to a peer or a colleague. Colleagues take real care and attention to make this a fulsome experience for everyone. Some participants have described this session as ‘life changing’ (a cliche I know)!
9. Learn To Be Your Own Best Friend Activity
Smart people can often be held back by what’s on the ‘inside’ rather than what’s on the ‘outside’. We spend so long acquiring technical skills and professional capabilities. It comes at the expense of under-investing in our inner game right. Smart, capable people can often be held back by their own self-limiting beliefs. They say things to themselves they would never say to their best friend. Often our deepest personal growth comes from self-acceptance and learning to silence our inner Critic.
- Ask your participants on the importance of getting their inner game right and what this means to them
- Ask about the inner Critic and do colleagues ever find they are their own worst critic? Do they ever find themselves in situations where their self-talk is holding them back? They may doubt themselves or they may see themselves in a light, which others would not recognise?
- How important is it to learn tips and strategies to master their inner game – so they can be resourceful and the best version of themselves when they most need it?
- In what situations in the last month or months have they listened to their inner self-talk and walked away from a challenge vs taking it on?
- How much of their inner talk is founded on rational thinking (facts and data) and how much on irrational thinking (things that may have been true once, but have now passed their sell-by-date)?
- What’s the positive intent of their inner talk?
- How can this be channelled in a more effective way?
- What does learning to be your own best friend mean to you?
- Participants are introduced to a pull style coaching model
- The Facilitator seeks a volunteer and role models ‘pull style’ coaching in action
- Participants are encouraged to take notes and provide the Facilitator with evidence-based feedback on what they observed in the pull-style coaching
- The Facilitator explains on flipchart the key features of pull style coaching: namely be 100% present, ask high quality questions, remain neutral, don’t give any advice, keep focused on getting to the truth, summarise and ask your colleague on their actions and commitments
- Colleagues then pair up.
- They agree confidentiality and agree who will take on the role of Coach first for 30 minutes
- They go for a walk and talk, focusing on the preparation already completed
- After 30 minutes they swap roles
- Back in the main room, the Facilitator does a review on the key insights and learning colleagues took on how they can learn to become their own best friend
This activity works best once participants have completed some of the other activities and there is a level of trust in the team/community. We encourage participants to check-in with each other on a monthly basis for continuous coaching. This powerful activity is one of the best inner-leadership activities I’ve come across. Participants feel empowered and equipped to silence their inner Critic.
10. Living My Perfect Week Activity
This is a great activity when colleagues feel they’re stressed, overwhelmed and close to burnout. The focus of this activity is to shift their thinking from ‘what I don’t want’ to ‘what I do want’ – hence the perfect week. From ‘victim’ mindset to ‘victory’ mindset.
- In this activity we’ll focus on how you can manage work vs work managing you. We’ll focus on the difference between being super-productive vs busy being busy.
- We’ll address how you can set boundaries, so you have a start time and an end-time to your work, leaving you time to do the things that refuel you and re-energise you
- In a knowledge and creative economy, it’s important you look after your brain and mental wellbeing. Your brain is incredibly energy hungry and works best in 90-minute cycles of focused activity – before you need to take a break.
- Look back on the last 3 months and assess on a scale of 1-10 (where 1 is low and 10 is high), how effectively have you managed work vs work managing you?
- What small shifts in behaviour and discipline will shift your score by 1 (assume 5 to 6)
- Ditto from 6 to 7?
- Ditto from 7 to 8?
- If you have implemented these activities – describe your perfect week: how would you be managing your day, your week? How would you be making time for your wellbeing, your family, your friends? How would you be managing your calendar? How will you be negotiating more sensible deadlines? How will you push back on last-minute requests which are ‘urgent but not important’?
- Participants take two sheets of flipchart in landscape and describe current reality and new reality
- This can be in the form of a word cloud, images, storyboard
- Participants work in smaller groups of 4 and take turns to share their ‘before’ and ‘after’ stories. After 10 minutes they have a further 10 minutes for pee-to-peer coaching on ‘the how’. How will you make these changes, where will you start, how will you get the buy-in of your manager, how will you stay disciplined, how will you avoid reverting back-to-type, etc….
- Each individual then summarises they actions they will commit to and records on their smartphone
- The team commit to meeting again in one month, where each team member will review their video commitments: what’s worked, what’s work i progress and what has not landed and commit to further refinements for the month ahead
This activity is a very practical way of giving participants time to breathe, take a step-back and identify the small changes that will have the biggest impact on their happiness and productivity at work. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know how you get on with these leadership activities. They’ve taken over 30 years of field-testing to refine! Go forth and grow more leaders.