Running Your Empire: Leadership

This will be a multipart series exploring the different issues and struggles that groups go through as they are born and grow, as well as offering advice on how to manage that process.  My experience and background ranges from being a director in Goonswarm, to a Deputy Commander in World of Tanks, and overseeing the development of the Word of Lowtax in MechWarrior Online.  As such this is from the background of competitive community PvP games, although there are many shared attributes between communities of all games.


Who Selects the Selector?

The most important part of any group is good leadership.  I mean this in both the managerial sense of day to day operations as well as the visionary and guiding sense of the term.  Obviously picking the right people for the right jobs is crucial. It requires a certain level of competency, however, to know how to pick competent people, which brings in a chicken and egg problem.  What’s the best way to wind up with good leadership? Why, to start off with good leadership of course! To make it worse there is, as always, a Dunning-Kruger effect complicating the matter.  I’ll assume the reader is at the right end of the bell curve because statistically the vast majority of my readers will assume that about themselves as well.

At the end of the day there really isn’t some magic formula you can follow to select a good selector.  The weak point is always going to be if the first person who gets the power to promote his peers is competent or not, and no advice I can give you is going to change that: its just historical fact.  Most groups are simply made by the first person with the desire, ability, and will to form one.  You don’t have to be good at leading to be the first: you just have to be first.  The only words of wisdom I can offer you if you are ever in that situation yourself is to try really really hard to pick the first few people carefully.  The first people in are going to be the ones that set the tone and environment for the rest, as well as helping you identify more talent.  They will be the foundation the rest of the group relies on.


Talent Search - No Prima Donnas Please

So I’ve talked a bit now about being ‘good at leading’, now it's time to describe what makes good leaders.  I’m not going to talk about the obvious stuff like charisma, drive, vision, or likeability because frankly it’s boring and has been done a million times elsewhere.  Instead I’m going to focus on two qualities that typically get overlooked, yet are critical. 

A major flaw you need to use as a litmus test is the amount of drama and personal enemies a candidate has acquired.  A propensity for drama will cause stress points in your group that will cause it to shatter into pieces under pressure.  When you just lost half a dozen battles in a row you do not want to have to deal with a drama queen proclaiming the sky is falling.  You are going to want someone who will remain calm and start working to fix the problem.  Beyond that, you will be interacting and spending a lot of your free time with this person and surrounding yourself with people who cause drama is not my idea of a good time.  Drama destroys morale for the people who have to deal with it, and having your upper management with low morale never ends well.

One of the major sources of this is when you select someone based solely upon their skill at the game, especially at whatever they call your flavor of battle commander.  Just because they know how to run a strategy well and have a good tactical head on their shoulders does not mean you should promote them to higher management.  Be very wary before you do, for that sort of personality which lets them give orders to others in the middle of chaos goes hand in hand with overconfidence and a giant ego.  Your higher management should have their focus on managing your community first before anything else as well: battle commanders will always have their attention split.  In addition, by having separate groups for your battle commanders and upper management you are able to bring in and train new commander talent without worrying whether they can be trusted with authority.  I plan on dedicating an article to the art of managing battle commanders later.


Talent Search - Rational Arguing

The other quality I deem essential is something I call rational arguing.  By this I mean the ability to engage in discussion meant for the purpose of actually finding the correct answer to a question.  This is frankly impossible for many people, because they are used to arguing having its purpose as a tool for social dominance.  Once you know what side you’re on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that favor your enemy.  You don’t argue to find out the truth, you argue to win.  Rational thinking on the other hand requires that the parties put the good of the group above themselves, and allows for high quality problem solving while minimizing the potential conflicts that spark drama.  A good rational arguer will require background knowledge in the cognitive biases that prevent the brain from working efficiently, so they can attempt to factor it into their thought process.  Since they are human they are going to fail, but it’s a useful tool anyway.  I recommend learning about the hindsight bias and groupthink bias in particular as they are among the worst offenders causing disasters among decision makers.  

However, in order for rational arguers to do their thing, the expectation must be set that everyone will play by the rules.  I recommend having a private forum, or IM channel for your leadership and to make it abundantly clear that in that channel amongst yourselves there is zero tolerance for logical fallacies and intellectually dishonest politicking.  Set the expectation that in this room you are all there to collaborate and work together for the common good, and that anyone who doesn’t will be warned and removed.  Tell them to be willing to change their minds, to update their beliefs when new evidence is presented, and to always be willing to discuss their idea and thought process.  There is no shame in being wrong, there is only shame in not admitting it when the evidence points the other way.

A cheerful side effect of this is that the human brain, which is seeking its own advantage 24/7, will now think it will gain social currency via logical arguing, and it risks social ruin if it uses the more traditional arguing ‘to win’ mode.  It will then adjust its behavior smoothly which is exactly what you want. The switch between the two modes will actually happen rather easily as long as the brain clearly understands which mode is to its own advantage.  For similar reasons I also highly recommend rules such as no ad hominems, or personal attacks, and an expectation that a person questioning the validity of your idea is okay.


Final Thoughts & Assorted Wisdom

Don’t forget the essential mission of playing video games: have fun.  You and the people you choose are the most important people in your group, and if you stop having fun your group is going to suffer.  At the end of the day make sure you enjoy what you are doing, a happy supreme leader makes for a happy people.

Manage your work level.  Delegate, Delegate, Delegate.  Identify the tasks that only you can do, and make sure you have a backup for all the other tasks that need to be done.  That way when life throws you a curveball you can minimize the level of work you are doing to something sustainable without letting your group suffer.

Try to prevent drama at all costs.  This is one of those situations where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If you can spot it and intervene before both parties develop undying hatred for each other it will pay off dividends in the future.  Dealing with drama has got to be the most annoying part about any position of leadership, and once you have to do it yourself you gain a measure of understanding for when your bosses cared more about resolving the problem rather than finding out who was right.

Think long term.  Always be asking yourself what is next.  If you don’t know more or less what is going to happen over at least the next six months you are going to be in for a world of hurt.  Track changes to the game and how that will affect you.  Track your players and how their participation changes upon the start of the school year and breaks.  Keep an eye on participation numbers and recruitment.  You can only have preparations if you have foresight.  


Next Article - The Importance of Your Culture

My next article in this series will focus on the development of your group’s culture and brand.  It will explore the issues of choosing a culture to disseminate to your group, why having a unique culture is important, and how your culture will affect the long term success of your group.  


I'm a former Goonswarm Intelligence Director, before leaving to play WOT first as a DC in CONDI then as a DC in SGLE. Currently I'm involved in Word of Lowtax in Mechwarrior Online as well as trying to make sure PGI doesn't ruin MWO Community Warfare