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InfoQ Homepage Articles Q&A with Ignace and Yves Hanoulle about the Leadership Game

Q&A with Ignace and Yves Hanoulle about the Leadership Game

What do you expect from a leader? People have different ideas about what a leader can and should do, and personal leadership preferences. The book the Leadership Game is the manual for a three-hour game in which different leadership styles are practiced. The game has been played around the world since 2004.

InfoQ did an interview with Ignace and Yves Hanoulle about leadership styles, pair training and observing and giving feedback.

InfoQ: Can you briefly describe the purpose of the leadership game? What can people learn from playing it?

Ignace & Yves: The purpose of the game is to experience three different leadership styles. The advantage of this workshop, is that everyone learns different things. Yet to promote the game at conferences, we had to answer that same question. For us we wanted players to find an answer to the question what do they expect from a leader. And what that is, is for everyone different.

InfoQ: What makes it a leadership game, and not a leadership training or workshop?

Ignace & Yves: Interesting question. We did not want to call it a training as we don’t do the talking. I guess a workshop might fit as well, yet we wanted to be transparent up front that we would be playing a game. We were inspired by the power of the XP game, in that sense we also wanted to pay respect to that game, also in the name.  

At the end of the game, we have a 1 hour looking back at what happened. People discuss among themselves about what happened, we as trainers only facilitate the discussion. That might feel more like a workshop to some people.

InfoQ: In the game people will experience three different leadership styles. Why did you pick these three?

Ignace & Yves:  We picked self-organisation because back in 2004 everyone in the agile community was talking about self-organisation, yet not many people had experienced real self-organisation. (I think even today we have more people talking about self-organisation, then really experienced it.. ;-) ) Once that one was chosen, the opposite was natural choice, also because not many people have personally  experience real command and control. As we needed 3 exercises, we wanted to show an alternative, not command and control, yet a coach who makes all facilitation decisions and who makes sure everyone hears everyone. Sometimes people new to coaching don’t realise it is desirable that a coach takes facilitating decisions.

InfoQ: The book provide a detailed description of how the game can be prepared and done. I think that experienced facilitators can organize a game session using the book, without involving you in any way. Doesn't that worry you?

Ignace & Yves: No. We have always giving everything about the game away ever since the second time we played it (the first time we had not finished our documents yet). When you create a workshop and people like it, they will try to play it again; we rather help them at succeeding then keeping it all to ourselves. We have received mails from around the world from people who played this. That feedback has also inspired us and improved the game for us. A real Win-Win-Win… The fact people still download and even pay for a free e-book, 10 years after we created it, is for me the prove that our game helps people understand better how they feel about different kind of leadership styles.

InfoQ: The leadership game is to be done with two trainers, working as a pair. What is the advantage of this.

Ignace & Yves: First of all, no matter how good you are as a trainer, the chance exists you will have a bad day. The chance that both trainers have a bad day on the some day, is much smaller.

Next to that,two people see more, especially for workshops that is important.

And last but not least, when I say something and tell students to not just copy what I say but think, there is a big chance they steal my idea. Even when I give them another idea, they will still take one of the two ideas.

When I argue with a pair trainer, they see two arguments and the chance is much bigger, they end with an original idea (that they invent themselves), inspiring other people to think, can you think of something nicer? We can’t. A bigger answer, to this question, you can find in chapter 10 of our book.

InfoQ: Does pair training also have disadvantages?

Ignace & Yves: The cost is higher, yet not in relation to the higher value.
There is the risk that one of the two trainers will take over and you will not see the other.

We said before that sometimes the pair coaches disagree,  we think this is a valuable thing. Some students don’t like this. Just like the previous question more details answers can be found in chapter 10. Yet when I see how much paircoaching was adapted the last decade in the agile community, I think it’s safe to say we are not alone in our quest for more pairing.

InfoQ: Observing and giving feedback are crucial activities in the game. My experience is that many people find feedback difficult, and are reluctant to do it. Doesn't that make it hard to play a leadership game?

Ignace & Yves: We give the participants questions that help them to think about what they went thru. And in the larger feedback round, we make time for everyone, even (especially?) the people who have a hard time finding their words.
For this, the first time we played at the first edition of XPday Paris was a nice example. When we started the game, we asked the participants to introduce themselves. It starts very slow, nobody starts. after a little encouragement, one person starts by stating his name and that he is different (our question as explained in the book) that he is different because he wears a red color T-shirt (could have been an other color) which was true, yet was also a very safe answer. Gradually more people answer, yet most stay very on the surface with their short answers. I don’t know if my father and I, we looked at each other, yet we both felt that it was a different culture then we were used and we would have a hard day.

While we play the game, I see more and more jackets and even tie’s being removed.
And then we do the closing round. what a difference, most people could not stop talking.

Although we have an hour scheduled for the feedback round, we go 20 minutes over. Laurent Bossavit, the conference chair comes in and asks us to wrap up.

They want to have the closing round of the conference. We still have 5 people to give feedback. (of the 20) We excuse ourselves to these 5 people and want to stop. One of the other persons stands up and say: I don’t care about the closing round, I want to hear them talk. I will stay.
A lot of cheers and smiles. Most people stay.

That’s when I knew, this game hits home for a lot of people. We have been invited to play the game a few more years in Paris. I recently saw pictures back from that first event, a lot of these players, I can call my friends these days. Yes giving feedback is hard. It’s my job as a facilitator to help people find their voice.

InfoQ: In your book you also provide background information about leadership.In one chapter you talk about finding ways of leadership which gives the benefits that teams would normally have when there is no leader. Can you explain what you mean with this, and what it can bring to teams?

Yves: My father with who I created the game wrote these articles.  I let him answer this one.

Ignace: In chapter 11, 'contemplation on leadership', the section 'How can the benefits of working without a leader be kept by a certain way of leadership?' deals entirely with this question. As a consequence of the considerations in this section, the more a leader is a process leader without being directive, the more the team benefits from the specific advantages of self-organizing teams.

InfoQ: For many leadership feels like a natural thing, they are used to having somebody take the lead. Isn't that a barrier to self-organization?

Ignace & Yves:  Schools have been designed to teach us to follow someone. And many managers love this, they think it makes their life easier. And having someone telling me what to do, is very easy. I don’t have to take any risk, I can stay inside my comfort zone. So creating an environment of trust, where people feel they can self-organise is crucial to make it happen.

In retrospect; I  think this is what has been the power of the game, people now have a safe place where they can experiment with self-organisation. And once they have experienced self-organisation in the game, they can decide for themselves, if they like that or not.

The same happens with managers, most managers when they read about self-organisation. They love it. yet, at the moment they have to let go and let their team decide, they worry.

It’s like all parents want their children to have their own opinion and we want our children to not give in to group pressure, stand up for themselves etc etc,

Except at 08 in the morning rush to school, then we want them to just listen to us and do what we aks them. If we want to raise kids that  can self-organise, we have to design our morning rituals so that they can take their own decisions and still arrive on time at school, without us yelling and complaining. Somehow that is easier for me to design such workplaces then design such a morning ritual ;-)

About the Book Authors

Ignace Hanoulle  is an engineer with 30 year experience and a psychologist with strong interest in system thinking. He has done advanced training in leading groups (System based education) and has 20 years experience as animator of experience driven groups.


Yves Hanoulle  started to work in IT in 1994.He worked as software support, developer, team lead, trainer, agile coach, change artist, first follower, thought jockey.  These days he calls himself Creative Collaboration Agent. He believes that IT is mainly about working with people. A skill that can never be learned enough. Yearly he spends 10 to 20% of his revenue on training and books.

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