What Are Some Effective Exercises in Leadership Workshops?

What Are Some Effective Exercises in Leadership Workshops?

In the quest to hone leadership skills, we've gathered insights from experienced professionals, including Leadership Coaches and Founders, to share their most effective exercises. From fostering communication and self-reflection to experiencing role-reversal dynamics, explore these eight impactful activities designed to elevate leadership workshops.

  • Foster Communication and Self-Reflection
  • Practice Coaching-Style Leadership
  • Introduce Embodiment Exercises
  • Facilitate 'How Might We' Strategy Sessions
  • Begin with Mindfulness
  • Conduct Active Listening Exercises
  • Visualize with Power
  • Gamify Decision-Effectiveness
  • Experience Role-Reversal Dynamics

Foster Communication and Self-Reflection

I coach healthcare businesses and CEOs, and the key is communication from me and communication and engagement from them. Without it, the workshop becomes stale and boring for everyone.

It is important to ask the right questions and let the delegates/coachees answer them using their own frame of reference, not yours.

Letting them come to their own conclusions is much more likely to stay in their long-term memory, especially if it relates to a feeling or emotion.

Perbinder Grewal
Perbinder GrewalSurgeon, Patient Safety Trainer & Leadership coach, Whitehall Medical Limited

Practice Coaching-Style Leadership

Inviting our leaders to use coaching as a form of leading their people is a mind-twist that can take some time. Inviting them to pause, listen more deeply, and ask more questions—to invite their team to find the answers themselves—is often greeted with skepticism. When put forward in a workshop scenario, where all the leaders in the room have to explore this together, it has them laughing at themselves. Then, by the end of the exercise, they are celebrating how they all were able to move through their personal barriers and build more capable teams in the meantime. The workshop activity introduces coaching-style questions and has the leaders practice not immediately solving the problem at hand but using coaching to help their teammates find the answers themselves.

Susan ElfordLeadership Coach & Business Mentor, Susan Elford Coaching & Consulting

Introduce Embodiment Exercises

A gentle embodiment exercise, such as breathing into the lower half of the body and naming sensations, is a very effective tool for leadership workshops. The reason this works is that most humans are conditioned to live life from their minds, which is where our anxieties and self-doubt reside. By becoming embodied, the mental nerves are released, and leaders can lead far more effectively.

Nuria Reed
Nuria ReedEmpowerment Coach, Nuria Reed

Facilitate 'How Might We' Strategy Sessions

When running strategy sessions, a tool I often use is borrowed from product development. It uses "How Might We" (HMW) statements to facilitate creative thinking.

Around a particular area of the strategy, I run a four-step process that involves the attendees at the session breaking into small groups. Ahead of the meeting, I will know how many groups we have (I'm aiming for three to five people in each) and break down the topic so that each group will have a particular strategic goal to work with.

The first exercise is for each group to consider what we as an organization are doing well in the area they are focusing on. We reconvene, and they share their top three with the group. This process is repeated for what we are not doing well, and after the playback, all groups will be invited to rotate through the other groups' work and add any additional well/not well statements they think have been missed. These activities create the right context and mindset for the next step.

Returning to their original groups, they are then tasked with developing How Might We statements. These are ways of focusing people's attention in the right direction when ideating. They are intentionally high-level and specifically avoid incorporating the solution. Once again, the groups share their top three.

The final step is the ideation phase. I ask each group to write down as many ideas as they can think of to address the HMW statements. Similar ideas are grouped, and ideas can also be built on. The goal is to get lots of ideas out there that are not finished but form the basis of potential opportunities.

The groups review each other's boards, allowing them to add and contribute in a strategic area they have not been working on. Each group then prioritizes their top three to five ideas, and the final step is dot voting to decide which to take forward.

I use the HMW exercise because it is a great way to get people who are not typically in creative roles to contribute ideas.

Paul Blunden
Paul BlundenFounder & CEO, UX247 Ltd

Begin with Mindfulness

To have effective leadership workshops, all participants need to be engaged from beginning to end. At the start of the meeting, I ask everyone to take a minute to notice what thoughts are in their heads. Maybe they are thinking about the last meeting they were in or the morning commute. Maybe they are thinking about what they must do later that day. I ask them to notice those thoughts, without judgment, and put them into little boxes that they can come back to later. Then, after a minute (yes, I set a timer for this), I ask them to bring their minds back to where their bodies are - in the room, in the meeting. This is an exercise that can be repeated after every long break during a multi-day meeting.

Lisa Mazzoni
Lisa MazzoniLeadership Coach, Growth Collaborations LLC

Conduct Active Listening Exercises

Active listening exercises are great in leadership workshops. Pair participants and allow one person three minutes to discuss a personal topic, like a hobby they enjoy. During this time, the listener refrains from verbal responses, instead using body language and affirming sounds to indicate attentiveness. Following the three-minute period, the listener verbally summarizes what the speaker shared with the group, including any emotional cues perceived during the conversation. Participants then switch roles and repeat the exercise.

Emma Gray
Emma GrayFounder, Empathrive

Visualize with Power

Tony Robbins did a Power of Visualization exercise, and I've borrowed it often (with credit to him) during my own workshops. You point your finger straight ahead while standing up and turning as far as you can. Then, you close your eyes and visualize turning all the way around. Open your eyes and turn again. See how far you go!

Kelli Anderson
Kelli AndersonCareer Coach, California Commercial Insurance

Gamify Decision-Effectiveness

Several years ago, I ran a successful decision-effectiveness workshop at a company QBR. We had the worst timeslot: the last session at the end of two long days. Once the workshop was underway, the energy in the room was palpable, and we received many kudos afterward.

Two things made the workshop effective. One: We stayed grounded in a business challenge—the speed and cost of our current approach. Two: The insights were generated by two gamified situations, which removed any blame from the scenarios presented and lightened up a serious topic.

Marca Clark
Marca ClarkSenior Director, Talent & Organizational Development, New Relic

Experience Role-Reversal Dynamics

One exercise I believe consistently stands out in leadership workshops is the Role-Reversal activity. It involves participants swapping roles within their team, allowing them to experience the challenges and responsibilities of their colleagues' positions. This will not only foster empathy but also encourage a deeper understanding of different aspects of the organization.

Engaging in this activity, leaders gain insights into the day-to-day hurdles their teams face. It's a hands-on way to identify areas where support is needed and to appreciate the contributions of each role. Moreover, it breaks down barriers, promoting open communication and a more cohesive team dynamic.

Ultimately, Role Reversal empowers participants to return to their own roles with a renewed perspective, driving them to be more considerate and effective leaders. It's a simple yet powerful tool that resonates well with professionals, as it directly relates to their work environment and relationships.

Phil McParlane
Phil McParlaneFounder & CEO, 4DayWeekJobs

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