Leadership Lessons with Bill – Playing Cards and Life Stages

Leadership lessons demonstrated with playing cards as life stages.

Use playing cards to get your team talking about life stages – Leadership Lessons with Bill

Welcome back for another addition of “Leadership Lessons with Bill”! In today’s post we’re talking about life stages and major events we remember from different points in our lives.

I did this exercise with my team before a football game and with five people it took about 15 minutes to hear from everyone in the group and to allow some good commentary after everyone had a chance to share a memory from one of four life stages. To perform this leadership lesson/exercise, I used a deck of cards, removed all the face cards and aces and set aside the rest of the deck. With the face cards and aces shuffled and face down, I first asked everyone to pick two different cards without telling them what they should expect. With a larger group, you could either ask everyone to choose only one card or also include the number 10 cards from the deck to increase the total number of cards from with to choose. Either way, the purpose of the exercise is not who gets the best card…

The purpose of this leadership lesson is to develop team camaraderie through group sharing, understanding and bonding. Once everyone on my team had their playing cards in hand, I explained what each card meant and what they should do, in order, one person at a time. Depending on the age ranges of the members of your team, you can adapt the time periods for life stages I’ll define next. Each team member should share a memory that corresponds with the card(s) they are holding.

Jack – The people who chose this card should be asked to share something from their early childhood, perhaps even one of their first memories as a child.
Queen – The holders of this card should share a memory ranging from their early schooling years up to the end of middle school.
King – If this card was chosen, a memory from high school should be shared.
Ace – Your team members holding this card should share a recent memory, ranging from the beginning of college until the present.

As with any exercise that involves vulnerability and sharing, it’s important to set the stage for openness and acceptance. Clearly state that before anyone shares their thoughts, each person is expected to treat everyone’s responses with dignity and respect, including their own. The memories and thoughts shared with the group could be difficult for someone to share and should be treated with care. By actually stating these facts out loud to the group before the sharing begins, there often immediately flows a sense of calm and listening that is almost tangible. Take care of your people and let them know it’s safe to share.

With the stage set for open sharing, invite everyone to share something relative to the playing card they chose. It can be anything they wish and the others in the group should try to validate each persons life stage memory with positive reinforcement. By performing this life stage group building leadership lesson, the team members get to know each other on a different level, which encourages rapport, cooperation and an over all sense of connectedness that is critical to teamwork.

If this exercise is too touchy-feely for you, don’t worry. You can easily adapt the topics that each playing card represents to stand for something work related or turn the characters into a metaphor for what makes a good leader. If you do that, you can ask everyone to give an example of how each face card character might be a good leader and how they personally demonstrate those qualities in their own work. Either way, the objective is to get people talking and connecting with one another on a level that doesn’t involve work tasks or duties.

If you find this helpful, let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear from you.

Go Forth!

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