What’s Included:

  • Suggested Activities
  • Suggested Debrief Questions
  • Types of Leadership

Leadership is everywhere.

In every activity there is leadership and opportunities to improve leadership skills.

Sometimes leaders are selected, chosen or assumed. Most of the time, leadership in the group shifts until whomever is loudest gets listened to by everyone else.  Rarely does a team stop to intentionally select a leader.

There are other factors as well. However, there is ALWAYS leadership. And most of the time, very poor leadership. The military has a very specific form of leadership that is taught and reinforced. That is only one kind. Experiential activities help us see leadership in action and talk about different kinds of leadership.


Great leadership activities:

Activities  that have a challenging structure for communication – TP Shuffle and Traffic Jam, for example.  Communication is a challenge so there is a need for strong leadership and followership.  And you will see certain kinds of leadership occur naturally in these situations.

Tied in Knots demonstrates how leadership must change as the situation changes. In this case – the amount of time you have!  Leadership is not established and the decision making is democratic.  As time decreases, obviously something must change, but typically the group does not change with the need.  Very cool results.

Spider Web, Horizontal Web and Electric Fence are all great for leadership as each of them require a unified effort to achieve your goal.  Any activity that requires a unified and concerted effort of the team is a winner.

Trust Walk is another great activity, even though it is a paired activity, so more of a coaching and coachee opportunity to lead and follow.  As the sighted leader, we do very little to take care of our blindfolded partner.  We feel responsible and *think* we are taking care of them, yet do not stop to look at basics like what is a step for my coachee?  How are we going to communicate effectively?  This is so simple we do not consider it ‘leadership’ as leadership typically involves a group of people.  However, a paired activity is the simplest format for leadership and it is impossible to refuse or diffuse responsibility for leadership.


Suggested Debrief Questions to ask after the activity:

Read more about debriefing methods here.  Below is the DIGA approach:

Describe Questions

  • What kind of leadership was there in the activity?
  • How did you select a leader, or how did a leader emerge, if at all? Why that person, or no person? (Depending upon answer)
  • Did the leadership change in the activity?

Interpret Questions

  • Why was leadership important?
  • What would happen if a single leader were chosen and everyone followed that person? (You may want to run the activity and appoint a single person to be the leader -help them plan it and watch how smoothly the process goes. NOTE! Tends to be more boring and kids like chaos and excitement.)

Generalize Questions

  • What kinds of leadership do you experience in your life? Parents – what kind of leadership? Teachers – what kind of leadership? POTUS – what kind?
  • What kind of leadership do you most like? Why?

Apply Questions

  • What kind of leader will you be in your life?
  • What have you learned from this activity that you can apply in life?  Go around the room and have each person say one thing.

MOST IMPORTANT – when you ask questions, be sure they are open-ended questions and not close-ended questions. A close-ended question is a Yes/No or other simple answer that requires no explanation.


Types of Leadership:

Don’t get too concerned with identifying styles of leadership.  However, knowing the basic types can be useful in a classroom / instructional situation.

Autocratic Leadership

Autocratic leadership is an extreme form of transactional leadership, where a leader exerts high levels of power over his or her employees or team members. People within the team are given few opportunities for making suggestions, even if these would be in the team’s or organization’s interest.

Most people tend to resent being treated like this. Because of this, autocratic leadership usually leads to high levels of absenteeism and staff turnover. Also, the team’s output does not benefit from the creativity and experience of all team members, so many of the benefits of teamwork are lost.

For some routine and unskilled jobs, however, this style can remain effective where the advantages of control outweigh the disadvantages.

Charismatic Leadership

A charismatic leadership style can appear similar to a transformational leadership style, in that the leader injects huge doses of enthusiasm into his or her team, and is very energetic in driving others forward.

However, a charismatic leader can tend to believe more in him or herself than in their team. This can create a risk that a project, or even an entire organization, might collapse if the leader were to leave: In the eyes of their followers, success is tied up with the presence of the charismatic leader. As such, charismatic leadership carries great responsibility, and needs long-term commitment from the leader.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

This French phrase means “let them do” and is used to describe a leader who leaves his or her colleagues to get on with their work. It can be effective if the leader monitors what is being achieved and communicates this back to his or her team regularly. Most often, laissez-faire leadership works for teams in which the individuals are very experienced and skilled self-starters. Unfortunately, it can also refer to situations where managers are not exerting sufficient control.

Servant Leadership

This term, coined by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, describes a leader who is often not formally recognized as such. When someone, at any level within an organization, leads simply by virtue of meeting the needs of his or her team, he or she is described as a “servant leader”. In many ways, servant leadership is a form of democratic leadership, as the whole team tends to be involved in decision-making.

Supporters of the servant leadership model suggest it is an important way ahead in a world where values are increasingly important, in which servant leaders achieve power on the basis of their values and ideals. Others believe that in competitive leadership situations, people practicing servant leadership will often find themselves left behind by leaders using other leadership styles.

Transactional Leadership

This style of leadership starts with the premise that team members agree to obey their leader totally when they take a job on: the transaction is (usually) that the organization pays the team members, in return for their effort and compliance. As such, the leader has the right to punish team members if their work doesn’t meet the pre-determined standard.

Team members can do little to improve their job satisfaction under transactional leadership. The leader could give team members some control of their income/reward by using incentives that encourage even higher standards or greater productivity. Alternatively a transactional leader could practice “management by exception”, whereby, rather than rewarding better work, he or she would take corrective action if the required standards were not met.

Transactional leadership is really just a way of managing rather a true leadership style, as the focus is on short-term tasks. It has serious limitations for knowledge-based or creative work, but remains a common style in many organizations.

Bureaucratic Leadership

Bureaucratic leaders “work by the book”, ensuring that their staff follow procedures exactly. This is a very appropriate style for work involving serious safety risks (such as working with machinery, with toxic substances or at heights) or where large sums of money are involved (such as cash-handling).

In other situations, the inflexibility and high levels of control exerted can demoralize staff, and can diminish the organizations ability to react to changing external circumstances.

Democratic Leadership

Although a democratic leader will make the final decision, he or she invites other members of the team to contribute to the decision-making process. This not only increases job satisfaction by involving employees or team members in what’s going on, but it also helps to develop people’s skills. Employees and team members feel in control of their own destiny, and so are motivated to work hard by more than just a financial reward.

As participation takes time, this style can lead to things happening more slowly than an autocratic approach, but often the end result is better. It can be most suitable where team working is essential, and quality is more important than speed to market or productivity.

People-Oriented Leadership or Relations-Oriented Leadership

This style of leadership is the opposite of task-oriented leadership: the leader is totally focused on organizing, supporting and developing the people in the leader’s team. A participative style, it tends to lead to good teamwork and creative collaboration. However, taken to extremes, it can lead to failure to achieve the team’s goals. In practice, most leaders use both task-oriented and people-oriented styles of leadership.

Task-Oriented Leadership

A highly task-oriented leader focuses only on getting the job done, and can be quite autocratic. He or she will actively define the work and the roles required, put structures in place, plan, organize and monitor. However, as task-oriented leaders spare little thought for the well-being of their teams, this approach can suffer many of the flaws of autocratic leadership, with difficulties in motivating and retaining staff. Task-oriented leaders can benefit from an understanding of the Blake-Mouton Managerial Grid, which can help them identify specific areas for development that will help them involve people more.

Transformational Leadership

A person with this leadership style is a true leader who inspires his or her team with a shared vision of the future. Transformational leaders are highly visible, and spend a lot of time communicating. They don’t necessarily lead from the front, as they tend to delegate responsibility amongst their teams. While their enthusiasm is often infectious, they can need to be supported by “detail people”.

In many organizations, both transactional and transformational leadership are needed. The transactional leaders (or managers) ensure that routine work is done reliably, while the transformational leaders look after initiatives that add value.

The transformational leadership style is the dominant leadership style taught in the “How to Lead: Discover the Leader Within You” leadership program, although we do recommend that other styles are brought as the situation demands.

Using the Right Style: Situational Leadership

While the a specific leadership approach is often highly effective, there is no one right way to lead or manage that suits all situations. To choose the most effective approach for you, you must consider:

  • The skill levels and experience of the members of your team.
  • The work involved (routine or new and creative).
  • The organizational environment (stable or radically changing, conservative or adventurous).
  • You own preferred or natural style.

A good leader will find him or herself switching instinctively between styles according to the people and work they are dealing with. This is often referred to as “situational leadership”

For example, the manager of a small factory trains new machine operatives using a bureaucratic style to ensure operatives know the procedures that achieve the right standards of product quality and workplace safety. The same manager may adopt a more participative style of leadership when working on production line improvement with his or her team of supervisors.


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