December 11, 2018
Training and Development 26 July 2018
5 Surprising Reasons to Use Games in Leadership Training
Jessica Thiefels

Helping your employees learn and develop new skills is key to nurturing talent and driving organizations forward. According to an L&D report done by Findcourses25% of organizations place leadership and management development as their top priority when it comes to training. While you may have considered multiple different training programs to improve your employees' skills, one method of training you may have overlooked is games! 

Games make for the perfect supplemental training tool during leadership work. Games promote all the characteristics a great leader should have: communication, enthusiasm, accountability, and collaboration. Watching your leaders-in-training play can also provide insights into how they’ll manage setbacks and a work to boost morale. 

If you’re not sure about bringing games into your leadership training sessions, keep reading. 


Motivation and Hardship

Game: UNO

Leaders must be engaged and motivated at all times, as the person employees look to, in good times and bad. How they handle this responsibility is especially clear when people are falling behind in a game. How do these trainees fight the impulse to become sidetracked or disconnected when they’re losing? Do you see them pulling back as the game gets more challenging? Or, do they double down, working twice as hard? 

This is a crucial part of leadership training because these leaders need to keep themselves and their employees motivated. Yet, only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work, according to a recent Gallup poll. Don’t let that be 2 out of 10 of your employees. 


Learning Action and Reaction
Game: Poker

Betting games, like poker, emphasize the importance of tactical, strategic decision-making—something that’s crucial in a leadership position. The ability to calculate these risks, heighten the stakes when needed, and proactively respond to someone else’s move, are all transferable skills that can be taught in poker and used in the workplace. 

This type of action-reaction understanding is also just as important for managing risk as it is for managing employees. Mats Johnson, Executive Director for Global Poker explains that:

“This game [poker] is ideal for teaching strategy, as the participants will learn firsthand how their actions (i.e. betting or raising) can influence the actions of others,”

Leadership trainees must learn to assess all options, including cards in the other players’ hands, risk-reward factors, and appropriate actions based on what they found. While this may all happen in the span of a minute during poker, it could be a week-long process as a leader. Mastering these skills now are critical to their success later.


Strengthening through Failure
Game: Dominion

No one is immune to failure, not even leaders—and especially not new ones. Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes of Harvard Business Review said,

“Everyone hates to fail. We assume, rationally or not, that we’ll suffer embarrassment and a loss of esteem and stature. And nowhere is the fear of failure more intense and debilitating than in the competitive world of business, where a mistake can mean losing a bonus, a promotion, or even a job,” 

Letting the fear of failing take over and being afraid to choose the wrong course of action will stop your future leaders from accessing their full potential. That’s where games come in. Games reinforce the idea that after a loss, the player can start over and take a new approach. 

Losing in this way—in a controlled, safe and low-pressure environment—teaches them to view failure as part of their development process. It also allows them to learn skills they can use in real life when dealing with failure, whether it’s their own or that of an employee.


Driving Toward a Common Goal

Game: Pandemic 

Many games require a collaborative effort, and this framework exemplifies the importance of striving toward a common goal! Not only does learning to work together increase the chances of winning in the game, it’s also a vital component for the success of an organization. The same Gallup poll found that employees who are involved in goal setting are 3.6 times more likely to be engaged than other employees.

Authentic leaders recognize this as one way to team-build and create a cohesive group. When people share a mutual purpose and objective, and they commit to actively pursuing it. Especially when they’re involved in setting the goals—they’re more likely to feel a sense of ownership. This is one way to build union and camaraderie in the workplace while boosting the overall company culture.


Honing Communication Skills

Game: Codenames

Leaders must be able to share necessary information in precise, definitive terms that anyone can understand, especially when delegating tasks or changing team-wide goals. This ability to communicate effectively is one of the most foundational assets a leader can possess. It’s also a skill that’s often required during games where talking through strategies, concerns, and maneuvers is a necessity. 

As your trainees play Codenames, or another communication-focused game, encourage them to keep the five essentials of leadership in mind:

  • Beware of the say/do gap when promising to do something.

  • Make the complex simple.

  • Don’t fake it; find your own authentic voice.

  • Be visible to everyone.

  • Listen with your eyes.


Game Your Way to Creating Better Leaders

Games make leadership training more immersive and accessible, instead of tedious or disengaging. This approach inspires and empowers future leaders to see their role and responsibilities as something that’s within their reach while learning the skills necessary to succeed in a low-stakes environment. Not to mention, learning with fun games can also boost their morale and confidence, helping them identify as critical members of the team—perhaps even for the first time.


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Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and has managed a number of employees in her various roles. She now owns her own consulting business and has been featured on Forbes. She’s also shared her business insights on StartupNation, Manta, Glassdoor and more. Follow her on Twitter @JThiefels for more small business tips and ideas.