I was listening to the latest episode of The Instance podcast yesterday when the snippets at the end of the episode came up. Amongst the usual stand-outs in this hit and miss aspect of the podcast, there was a new feature titled, “Strength & Honor Leadership”, which is essentially about how to be a good leader, (about the last 10 minute mark.) Hosted by some guy called Modem, who cites an impressive list of academic credentials explaining why he is a good choice to be telling you all about leadership and then goes off into some bland and generalised waffle whist underscored by the soulful tones of new-age pipe music. I immediately thought that I could do better than his little effort, and the subject matter is certainly important. So, here I go.

Firstly, I have exactly zero academic credentials to back up my own claim of being able to teach you about leadership. I do, however have some real life experience. Namely, over 15 years working as a white-water rafting guide on four different continents as a trip leader. That means that I was not just leading the clients but the other guides as well. If you don’t know how to lead in this job then you’re in big trouble. So, with my sensational credentials out of the way, lets firstly dissect what Mr Modem said in his episode and what I agree and disagree with.

He lists the 5 most important characteristics of being an effective leader. These are;

1 Committed,
2 Experienced,
3 A good Communicator and Teacher,
4 Willing to be the Bad Guy,
5 Humble.

Firstly, lets look at what I agree with. The absolute number one trait of being a good leader is the ability to communicate. This corresponds directly with the ability to be able to listen. Very few people can listen. Most people are thinking of what they’re going to say whilst appearing to listen to you. Communication means understanding the relevant information that needs to be passed on. Information does not exist in a vacuum – you need to be aware that what you know about a given subject might not be the case with the people that you are communicating with. Communicating is all about selecting just the right information and the right amount of it to pass along. Too little and you haven’t said what needs to be said. Too much and the message may be lost in all the words or not even read.

So, that’s what I agree with. Now lets look at the rest of these points and break down why I don’t like them. While I like the sound of “Committed”, and I do agree that it is important, his explanation of why it is important is not. I will tie “Experienced” into this same boat as well. Modem’s idea of committed means that as a leader you need to do everything to get the project off the ground. His idea on experience is that you need to know all the character classes and be the center for advice. All this means that he has never heard of what I consider one of the fundamental traits of being a good leader;

The ability to delegate.

I am the GM of my current guild, The Crazy 88, and when setting up the guild I set out several officer classes. They are, the Tanking Officer, Melee DPS Officer, Ranged DPS Officer and Healing Officer. I did this for two essential reasons. Firstly, one person cannot be expected to be responsible for all these areas in a raiding guild, and secondly, I know next to nothing about tanking, healing and ranged DPS. But I do have great officers who do. I myself am not the Melee DPS officer. As the Guild Leader, I need to be able to step back and see what is going on. My job is not to get bogged down in the details, it is to identify potential problems and resolve them before they become an actual problem. My only “official” task in being the GM is to manage the EPGP loot system. A leader does need to be committed, but in a different way. They need to be committed to getting the job done with the tools available to them. My officers and fellow guildies are my best tools.

Lets look at, “Willing to be the Bad Guy.” Modem says that it’s a reality that all positions of authority come with and that if you don’t like it maybe leadership is not for you. But what does this mean? This is not a trait, this is a by-product of the role. Sure, you cannot please all the people all of the time, and sometimes people will be upset with you and you’ll have to deal with that, but I certainly do not set out to be a bad guy and take the fall for all the crap that goes down. To be honest, if you problem solve effectively, ie fix problems before they happen, then you shouldn’t often find yourself in this situation.

His last trait is the ability to be humble, but to be honest when he starts talking about having a nice helping of humble pie, I want to strangle small furry animals. There are two types of ineffective leaders at opposite ends of the spectrum. The dictator and the advice aunt, and he certainly seems to be heading for aunt-status. Have a listen to the snippet yourselves and make your own judgment. Tomorrow I will post my own list of what I consider crucial leadership traits and take you through my own processes for running a guild.