4 Games That Leaders Play

4-Games-That-Leaders-Play-Dan-ForbesAre you a true leader, or are you a game player? Some leaders are examples to follow, others are examples to avoid. Bad leaders play games with their people.  Good leaders inspire and lead the way.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” – The Apostle Paul

Four childhood games teach us valuable leadership lessons.

King of the Hill

I remember when a friend’s Dad dug a pond on his property and by doing so created a mountainous pile of dirt.  It was perfect for a game of King of the Hill.

We would race-climb up the hill, shoving and pushing other kids aside.  The first one to reach the top became King of the Hill. To maintain his position he would push and shove down any kid who tried to take his place.

King of the Hill is a nice kid’s game, but it’s a game leaders shouldn’t play. We all know the positional leader who shoved others aside to ascend to his position, and then protects his turf by pushing others down.

Bad leaders put others down. Good leaders pull others up.

Lesson: Leadership isn’t about pushing others down, it’s about pulling them up. (Tweet This)

“There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up” – Booker T. Washington

Follow the Leader

Another childhood game we played was Follow the Leader. One kid was the leader, the rest of us were the followers. The object of the game was for the leader to make following as difficult as possible.

The Leader would go under things, over things, through things, around things, making it hard to follow.  The followers would become exhausted, disoriented, and finally give up.

We all know leaders who are difficult to follow. Perhaps they lack integrity, empathy, people skills, or vision. We don’t want to follow them.

Bad leaders are hard to follow. Good leaders make following easy.

Lesson: Leadership isn’t about making following a chore, it’s about inspiring others to want to follow you. (Tweet This)

“Leaders know the way, go the way, and show the way” – John Maxwell

Hide and Seek

I can still remember leaning against a tree, counting out loud “one, two, three…one hundred,” as the other kids ran and hid.  It was a game of Hide and Seek.

The object of this game was to become the best one at hiding and the last one to be found. The last one found won the game.

Hide and Seek is a nice game for children, but when leaders play it, the organization suffers. We all know leaders who are not good at handling conflict or challenges. These are the leaders who rather than face a challenge head on, instead go into hiding.

That’s not good leadership. Bad leaders hide when the going gets tough.  Good leaders are accessible.

Lesson: Leadership isn’t about hiding during challenging times, it’s about leading from the front. (Tweet This)

“In business, as in war, the best leaders are those who lead from the front lines–who commit themselves fully to the mission…and…the common goal” – Justin Moore

Blind Man’s Bluff

We usually played this game in the big backyard of my Grandparent’s house. On kid was selected to be the “blind man.” We’d tie a bandana over his eyes so that he couldn’t see, spin him around a few times, and then, while hiding in plain sight, challenge him to catch us.

The object of the game was for the “blind man” to grope around trying to touch the other players. They would avoid the “blind man” while teasing him and tempting him to change direction.

We all know leaders who are like the blind leading the blind. Leaders without vision and without a clear direction. These leaders are constantly changing course.  They are weak and easily influenced by people and issues calling for their attention.

Bad leaders have no vision. Good leaders know where they are going and how to take their people there.

Lesson: Leadership isn’t simply activity and being busy, it’s having a clear vision which excites and compels others to follow.

 “Where there is no vision, the people perish” – Proverbs

There you have it.  Leadership is pulling people up, it’s inspiring others to want to follow you, it’s leading from the front, it’s having a vision that excites and compels others to follow. Good leaders don’t play games.

About Dan Forbes

"Leadership advocate, blogger, speaker, trainer, and adviser. Founder of the Lead With Giants™ Community and the #LeadWithGiants™ Tweet Chat. Available for workshops or speaking to your club, group, association or conference. Founder of LunchWithLeaders (LunchWithLeaders.org). My passion is... (1) Connecting. I love to connect with leaders and to help leaders connect with each other; (2) Engaging. I love sharing leadership ideas and
hearing the ideas of others; (3) Learning. I am a life-long learner and
believe we can learn much from each other; (4) Making a Difference. When I'm dead and
gone, I want people to say, ""My life is better because of him."""


  1. Great article Mr. Forbes! I love practical life leadership lessons. I’m sharing this with my leadership team this week. I have personally worked for leaders who played these games and it drove me nuts! I’m hoping to learn the lessons well and avoid doing it myself. Thanks for your creative insight.

  2. Great post Dan! All to often we unwittingly play these types of games without understanding the message we are sending to the people we are trying to lead.

  3. Love the analogies. There are always lessons to be learned from the ‘natural’ world. Kids playing / leading and following is a great example of how it is such a natural part of our lives as tribal animals.

  4. I loved reading your stories about the games people play – such a great way to make understanding leadership simple to digest.
    I am so with your comment that “Bad leaders put others down. Good leaders pull others up.” I always say to clients that the only way to empower is to give power.

  5. Dan – Love the creativity in this post! Really highlights that when leaders are playing games with their people, instead of leading, they are defaulting to behaviors of their childhood instead of stepping forward with competence, confidence and creativity. Thanks, Dan!

    – Alli

  6. In my research on execution and creating cultures of execution, I have found that the simple act of inspiring those you lead to be of enormous value. Simple reading an inspiring story or quote and talking about it for 2 minutes in a meeting is enormously helpful. Games like what you describe, might make a leader feel more powerful, but it will also make him/her less effective in helping their team achieve its goals. I appreciate your post.

    • Thanks, Todd. Simple works for me! Leaders (people) “needing” to feel powerful has led us into World Wars. That’s about as destructive as it gets.

  7. Dan.

    Your post made me think that …the eternal problem of the human being is how to structure their waking hours and this post made me think about the games people play.

    I agree with most of what you said, and I thoroughly enjoyed the post- and I believe, with heart based leadership, the best leaders do not lead from the front as you mention in this post. They lead from the side – almost in an embracing and engaging way. They are among the people -represented by the people.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.
    You are a #giant among the great.

    • Lolly, I understand and agree with your “lead from the side” idea. There a good points to be made for leading from the front, the side, and the rear. I guess Leaders need to be 360.

      I just learned that the lead Mare in a herd of horses actually leads from behind. Now, that’s leadership! (hmmm, another post idea)

  8. This is great Dan! Now you have me thinking about the games my daughter is playing with her friends in the neighborhood. They are playing a game called Man Hunt. I need to learn the rules but I imagine there is a lesson in there about how not to lead because, like all of these other games, it’s point is for an individual to come out on top. Unfortunately many still equate being the winner with being the leader long after they grow up.

    Thanks for an insightful walk down memory lane!

    • Susan, I’m not familiar with Man Hunt, but we are all familiar with those who seek to always exert their power over others. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  9. Dan, this is a great article! You certainly drew me in using imagery of childhood games and following through with the lessons.

    The end is my favorite: Leadership is pulling people up, it’s inspiring others to want to follow you, it’s leading from the front, it’s having a vision that excites and compels others to follow. Good leaders don’t play games.

    Looking forward to hearing more from you.

    All the best,

  10. Dan,
    This is a great post….strong truths told in a fun way. I enjoy your twitter as well. We are like-minded servant leaders. Blessings on your journey.

  11. Dan, this is an excellent post!

    The first two: King of the Hill and Follow the Leader are generally rooted in that ‘command and conquer or ‘power over’ mentality I mentioned in that leadership post I wrote last year based on your guest host topic last year. : )

    It revolves around the need to protect supply, be THE best, combined with an ‘air’ of superiority that followers are inferior and ‘beneath’ the leader. As much as we seek to love everyone, this is really a challenge to deal with in a leader that NEEDS that sort of power over others. And very destructive. Unfortunately, leaders may be oblivious to this themselves even though other people can see it and/or experience it.

    Hide and Seek: I’ve seen and experienced this in leaders as well. This may not be rooted in a power over mindset as much as it is simply someone who lacks conflict resolution and communication skills. It is generally based in fear and insecurity with conflict, or afraid to appear wrong. There’s HOPE though! With some assertiveness training, etc.

    I loved your quote towards the end. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ ~Proverbs

    Again, this is a great post Dan. Wonderful insights that we can all learn and grow from.

    • Samantha, From your comments it’s evident that you gave some real thought to this. I appreciate what you’ve shared. Your wisdom is something I admire. Keep sharing.

  12. Dan,
    This simple yet uber effective post is wonderful! It could easily be shrunk and laminated onto a card to be carried by all leaders to reference as a reminder of what the wrong kind of game playing can do. Competition and having fun are important, but this post truly lines out the problem with childish games and being a positive and effective leader.

  13. Dan – A great post – and a great comparison of leadership and the games we played as children. Your synopsis of the four lessons-learned are quite on point, in my opinion. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in such a way that we can all clearly identify the key takeaways.

  14. Love this post Dan. It makes me think about the competitive edge we look for in playing games. The question when it comes to leadership is “Am I going for the individual or the team victory?”

  15. Enzo Guardino says:

    Dear Dan,

    I love the childhood games you chose and the way you merged them into a leadership context. I remember the G+ LeadWithGiants Community posts you made pertaining to this concept but I hadn’t thought it could have come together this well in a single article.

    What strikes me is how so many childhood games are actually detrimental to nourishing future leaders. The solution is in your opening quote “when I became a man, I put away childish things.” The problem is not everyone has taken heed and many continue to rule the roost with the eyes and mentality of a child.

  16. Thank you Dan for reminding us that as a leader you are not in a position to play games with people. I can indeed imagine that your biggest problem in writing this post must have been to narrow down to only those four childhood games….

    Kind regards,


    • Joan, Life for some is fun and games, meaning they are not their authentic selves. I believe in having fun and playing games for fun, but being a leader requires authenticity.

  17. Beautiful inspiring post Dan !

    Playing games inflates the ego but ends up depleting the influence and impact of leaders. It is also unethical.

    Being caught in politics will happen and happens. Know your limits and listen to your deeper voice and instincts to say “no” ~ I am not going to participate in this, I disapprouve.

    Thanks for the leadership lessons Dan, the stories were both fun and engaging to read. You brought things together beautifully !

    • Johann, The problem I had in writing this post was narrowing it down. There are so many games that one could use to teach so many lessons. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

  18. Dan,

    Great way to highlight leadership abilities – good and bad. In the Hide-and-Seek one, it might also include when others cannot see your leadership. At times, leaders think they are being leaders, but they have their “invisible” cloak on. They are not showing their leadership in their acts, words, listening, etc. There is a hollowness to what they think they are doing and reality.

    Leaders need to ensure they are consistent in their words and actions.



    • Jon, I love your additional thought. I wonder, if people cannot “see” your leadership, are you really leading. Good point.

  19. Great article Dan! Excellent story-telling that helps shape the comparison. Blind Man’s Bluff is of significant importance to me – and how you shared this will definitely help explain the need for a clear vision that is used to propel the organization forward as well as protect it against harmful decisions. Key to the vision is the ability to articulate it, and as you state – it needs to inspire others to move towards it.

  20. Hi Dan,
    When I think of Blind People’s Bluff, I see the tremendous impact on employee engagement and morale.
    -Endless confusion can breed apathy and
    -Lack of vision leaves commitment by the wayside

    As for Follow the Leader, I propose that great leaders don’t develop followers. They model collaboration to create a culture of shared leadership. Collaboration is far more effective today than the traditional “follow me” leadership!

    Love your creative “games” approach to this post. Kudos and thanks,

    • Kate, Thanks for adding to the idea of comparing games to bad leadership. You are so right about the confusion and lack of vision. Also, it’s so true, the Leader’s primary responsibility is to create more leaders.

  21. Excellent post Dan. Evocative theme, good lessons and will speak to everyone. If we could all stop the games that we play, organisations would be better places, Nice reminder, thanks!


    • David, This post idea was first a little bit of Google+ discussion in my Lead With Giants Community. I knew I wanted it to become a post. Thanks.

  22. Beautifully written! The approach you used in sending your message was just perfect for me. I simply like this, Dan Forbes. Thumbs up!

  23. Hi Dan

    Great post drawn from simple childhood experiences that link clearly to my own direct experiences of leadership challenges! Thank you!


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