Thursday, January 28, 2010

Leadership from three angles

I know all of this has been covered elsewhere, likely by people far more clever than me. But recent events have made me stop and compile everything I know about leadership and from all the angles in which I have experienced leadership. I don't expect this to be groundbreaking by any means, but I wanted to organize my thoughts.

Leadership from the bottom
In my real life job, I unfortunately have been working in non-leadership roles for the past several years. So I know what it is like to feel like the under-appreciated, unknown, faceless and nameless cog in the business machine. From down here, it is certainly tempting to believe that everyone who is in a supervisory role has perks that I will never get.

In the position I held before this one, I was expected to keep the phone/desk covered at all times, along with another secretary in the department. This meant having to coordinate lunches with her and being as punctual as I could be. If either of us made it to work a little late, that was a problem. Leaving early was nearly out of the question. And God forbid we ever wanted the same day off or both happened to get sick at the same time! To see every other person in the department strolling in whenever they felt like it, taking long lunches, going to the gym mid-day, being able to go to the bathroom without having to clear it with someone else first (no wonder I hated that fucking job), yeah, they had perks that came from their position.

However, I made a lateral transfer to another department where the requirements are different, and suddenly the game has changed. I take long lunches. I can come in a little late and work over to make up for it. I don't have anyone making me dress up 5 days a week. I also get stuck with all the grunt work no one else wants to do and I see my supervisor abusing the living hell out of his "Exempt" status (no one has as much sick time as he takes). There still seem to be perks I will never have.

I have to assume that there are parts of these leadership positions that are less desirable. Perhaps dealing with the budget or attempting to steer an agenda through the turbulent waters of campus politics is more onerous than I imagine.

Still, it's difficult to respect most middle management here - the "officers" of the business world. There are some who clearly watch out for their teams, but there are just as clearly some who play favorites or seek only their own interests. Some seem to be completely checked out as far as interest in their jobs. Sometimes the person watching out for their team might also be the same person who then plays favorites among them.

So what are the bright spots for a lowly grunt? What are the positives I have seen from management here and how might I be able to take that and translate it into watching out for my guildies? What should I avoid because it'll make me look like a jerk? Here are things I would like to tell my boss (only without the WoW references, obviously).

Things to do
  • Greet people by name. I am blown away that the CIO knows my name. We don't work in the same building, let alone have nice heart to hearts. And when I don't even know who is who in a meeting I attend every week, it stands out that she knows me by sight and name. 
  • Give praise for a job well done. Even if someone's part in getting something accomplished was small or behind-the-scenes, they want to know their efforts have been noticed. Did someone's DPS go up a few hundred from last week? Shouldn't that be noted?
  • Offer assistance. I appreciate it whenever someone takes the time to help me learn something or get out from under a looming deadline. Back when I was a nubby 40-something mage, an officer gave me a run through ZF. That was huge, that he would notice me and offer to help. 
  • Find ways to give to people. Being generous with mats, gold, or items that are needed for a quest doesn't hurt someone with a raiding main. Don't make it about anything other than "I am happy you are on my team," and it will have all the more impact. 
  • Plan fun activities/keep things light. No one likes to work all the time or for work to be 100% serious business. Even when staring at a wipefest in progression content, try to keep the laughs coming in between attempts. Treating the whole thing like a chore will make others feel that it is a chore and then it will actually become a chore.
  • Hang out. Learn about people's lives. Today I learned that a guy in my guild has nine kids and is a farmer. How cool is that? 
Things to not do
  • Act self-important. Seriously, you're not the shit. No one is and no one likes the guy who acts like he is 
  • Have obvious favorites. Nothing chaps my ass at work quite like having my boss say in a team meeting "X and Y are never allowed to retire! We'd be lost without them!" and ignore the fact that, oh hi, I contribute to the success of this team also.
  • Fail to follow your own rules. You're not above them. You are held to them more than anyone else.
  • Fail to enforce your own rules. Talk about a fast track to breeding discontent, both for people who have to deal with your policies and for yourself when people mysteriously stop taking you seriously.
  • Parade your ignorance. It makes sense that one person can't know everything about everything. But don't make it a bragging point that you have no idea how someone does their job or that you really don't know what they do. They'll wonder why they're following an incompetent.  
Leadership from the middle

I see officers as being middle management, mostly because they do (or should) have power to handle enforcing whatever policies your guild has in place, but they aren't necessarily able to act completely autonomously the way the GM can. From what I have seen there are two basic types of officers, those that are motivated and want to see things happen and those who just let stuff happen around them.

I am swiftly growing to loathe the second type. (Note: type, not specific people, lest any of my officers who read this try to take that the wrong way.)

Unless the GM wants a bunch of sycophantic yes-men, the ones who take no interest in performing their duties are wasting everyone's time. They are the people who don't have a lot of assigned duties and barely do even those. They don't check the forums often, or if they do, they don't contribute to the conversations that are going on, let alone start a serious discussion of their own initiative. They are probably friendly, personable people that everyone likes, but when it gets down to it, they should be doing PR as regular guildies instead of stonewalling decisions that need to be made by taking forever to form an opinion about anything or vote on it.

Give me officers who, when they see a problem, not only point out that there's a problem but who also propose solutions to said problem.Even better, give me officers who are proactive enough to try to forecast a little and say things like, "You know, I noticed that our raid rules have a loophole here and guildie Z is known to try to exploit stuff like that. We might want to work on nailing that down to avoid trouble."

And what if they then added, "Here's some text you can look at. Let me know what you think."

I would personally eHump that officer. 

Levels of effort aside, the other thing that has to be - and is! - watched carefully is how do these officers behave? Do they embody the rules that you try to operate under or do they believe their title grants them immunity from following them? If it's the latter, oh, there are problems. Guild members who are not officers and who believe that position of leadership = perks will notice and they will get disgruntled and there will be shit hitting your fan. It might take time to build up to that, true, but it will be all the more ugly when it happens.

Having been an officer of a guild for, oh, some time now, I can also say this with some certainty: If you're an officer, you should be feeling like you have important work to be doing in game. Is it a game? Absolutely. Should it be fun and not all work? Of course. But if you signed on as an officer, there's more to it than having a special channel to talk in for fuck's sake. It's on you to resolve problems, be available for people to talk to about concerns, organize events and raids, contribute to building a guild-wide community of people through initiating conversations in guild chat, make sure the bank is being used properly, help new people get started on whatever raiding path you have, monitor your guild chat to make sure nothing offensive is happening there, step in to help those in need as you have time and ability, keep track of who is who in alt-heavy guilds and make sure people are where they should be in terms of rank and on and on and on.

If this sounds nothing like anything you've ever experienced as an officer, you're doing it wrong.

Of course, that means that there's someone else in your guild leadership team who is trying to handle some or all of that, maybe with help and maybe without. Only a team effort from all officers can make being officer less like bloody, goddamn hard work and more like putting in some effort here and there to maintain a working structure and keep the wheels moving.

As a final thought about this position - if you're afraid to take a hard line on anything because people might not like you, you are in the wrong place and should volunteer to step down posthaste.    

Leadership from the top

I don't have any brilliant - or even mediocre - observations about the top dog. I've held myself back for the past several years from truly seizing that power in the GM world. Co-GM has been fairly meaningless in terms of my just saying "this is what I think and I'mma grab the bull by the horns and just do it." I take pains to consult with the officers and I can't say that I've given a whole lot of directives.

That might be about to change. Because if there is one thing I believe about the top dog person, it is that they should work harder and longer than anyone else at making sure whatever it is they are leading is a success. Frankly, At has been checked out for some time and has become the type of "leader" that I bashed so heavily above.

Possibly I will screw up a lot and perhaps even fail. But I'm personally tired of holding myself back from saying and doing what I want to say and do on the basis that I'm not "really" in charge. It's been a disservice to both myself and the officers to have me calling the shots but acting coy about my authority when it is directly questioned or challenged.

And even if no one else makes it through this wall of text or does, and finds it all pointless and obvious, I have arrived at a worthy destination. I'm the GM of War Within a Breath, bitches, and I don't care if you don't like it.


  1. tl;dr...I am a liar.

    *disclaimer* I've read this three times and hesitate to hit post. Some of it needs stating. So take what you want, trash the rest and if you need clarification - ask me please...

    Things to note:

    - As you can see how it feels from the bottom, also remember that middle management is also below someone else. As upper management you have to treat your officers the same way you would someone from the bottom. You have to do the things you listed for those people as well as the ones that aren't 'middle ranged'.

    - Set out clear instructions and expectations. Give them a list of the things that would accent what they can do and stay away from those things that would be impossible for them to do.

    (this is gonna cause another rant...steps up on soapbox)

    - I fucking hate email/forums/chat as much as I love them. For those moments of hey how are you...hey this is what is going on...those things, I love email/forum/chat. For serious stuff...fucking trash it. You have the perception of the writer, the perception of the reader and when it's serious or hitting a hard note, we fail to put in words what we actually want to communicate. Chat is the worse, email/forums have to be second...UNLESS, serious thought has been put into the words being written(like this post) you will find that words are left out and feelings were not conveyed. Yes it causes walls of text but those walls are important. I refuse to talk to Alas via these methods because I know that written words can foul up communication! If I'm going to piss her off, I'd rather do it to her face so I can fix it immediately. If I am going to hit a hard note I want to watch her reaction so I can smooth it over or leave it hanging. Leaders need to use effective means for communication, be that well thought out ewords or verbal communication or face to face. One last note, people can write things and be more honest about thier feelings in that there are some pros and cons. Find the balance... *get's off soap box now*

    - Leadership makes mistakes and should own up to that. If in the heat of the moment words were spoken that were harsh...apologize. If you did something you shouldn't have...amend it. Management is not perfect and drops balls just like the lower folks do, perfection is not expected but the ability to own up to a mistake is.

    - There are two types of leaders (probably more...) Those that try to do it all because they think no one else can do it (or someone else can do it and they are afraid someone might look better than them.) And those that sit back, feet propped up on the desk doing nothing. Share the load much like we do when fighting the four horsemen. Everyone takes damage when the shit hits the fan. You all are a need to work at it.

    - Sometimes it's best to go back to the basics. When the shit is all around, people aren't making sense from one point to the next. Sometimes it's best to back up, punt, and try again. (Or in our case, wipe) What is the goal here? Who's not getting the kudo? What kudo do you want? What is really being get the idea. Sometimes it's a wipe it...laugh about it, talk about how to concur it, and hit that table again with clear thoughts and intentions.

    I'm in a rare spot...not just a guildie, not an officer. I know that there are some troubled waters and I'm helpless to do anything about it. I don't want to watch WWaB fail...I want to see them succeed. My life and blood are in this guild too. I have a very small voice in this large pond so with that...go back to the basics. Build this guild from the ground up...the guildies will be fine while you hammer out the details.

    Hugs... ~Jinx

  2. WallOFText crits you for 324123412, 3241000 overkill. You are dead. Your equipment has taken durability damage. It is dark. You will be eaten by a grue.

  3. Now my eyes are really bleeding.

  4. @Yngwe - Mine too. This post has me perma-cringing. Someone needs to slap me across the mouth and tell me to STFU.

    Must get distractory post up!

  5. sorry :(

    /sighs...I'll keep my comments to myself next time.

    *Dies in a wall of text*

  6. @Jinx - don't know about anyone else but my follow up comments weren't directed at you...

  7. And my post was more a barely humorous follow-up to last night's delirious FB status.

  8. I a moment of "I wanna help" I got wordy. Then again, it had been building for a while. Is ok. Loves you all...thanks for at least letting me get it out and if it helps... Two thumbs up...if it causes problems...delele my post LOL. It's all good. OH...and I'm a bit whiny and grumpy today too...just so you'll know. LOL.

  9. I thought it was an excellent post. But as I'm barely even a lowly guildie these days... what the hell do I know. :)