Yesterday I pulled the plug on our guild. It was like turning off some guy connected to a machine that had run out of power a while ago. It needed to be done. What got me moving my butt to do it was the fact that there are some really great raiders in our guild. You know what makes a really great raider, right? They turn up on time, wipe without complaint, know their class, know their job, don’t stand in purple circles, and don’t pull panda pets out to impress everyone. So I owed it to these guys to pull it now. Because now they are in demand, big demand. Because a lot of guilds have been having big troubles putting bums on raiding seats over the last few months. But all of that is going to change this week when the big 3.3 patch drops. A lot of players are going to come back to the game and raid spots with top guilds are going to become tough to get.

So I pulled the plug. Our guild had started off really well, we were raiding and had great members etc. But we hit a wall over the dreaded summer period. Our attempt to correct that in September was to join up with another guild to do 25 man raids. I was personally against this idea. I wanted to get our core 10 man group up and running again. I felt that running with another guild would be problematic in certain ways. If they don’t raid the way we like to, who are we to complain? But more importantly, with raiding with another guild we were filling up their empty slots that they were struggling to fill in this difficult period. This, I felt, would not be a long term option for us. Events unfortunately proved me right. The other guild informed us last week that with all their members coming back for the patch they would be unable to keep raiding with us.

This was however somewhat of a moot point as in the last raid that we did together our guild managed to field a grand total of two members to the cause. 6 weeks ago we lost three of our core raiders to other guilds, a dps hunter, a priest healer and one of our best raiders with his healer and tank. This dropped our core raiding group from 7/8 to 4/5. If you have 7 or 8 players on then you can fill the other 2 or 3 slots pretty easily. 4 or 5 online is a different story, however. Our 4 or 5 core raiders remaining are great players, but 10 man raiding is in a sense harder than 25 mans as 25 mans can carry 5 or more underperforming players. In 10 man runs every single person has to perform. So beginning with a core group of 5 means that you are almost guarenteed a night of wiping even if you manage to get 10 players together.

I myself have to accept a good deal of the responsibility for the guild ending. My own online presence was bad over the summer due to work commitments. Normally in September I am able to bounce back but this year in September I got married. Somewhat of a small commitment. Then work hit me hard in Autumn when normally I have a pretty quiet time of it. Plus, I lost interest in WoW due to various reasons, many of which I have spelt out on this blog. My officers kept it going for as long as they could. But in the end it was better for all concerned to wrap it up.

The other guild we had been running with has offered to merge the two guilds and I have taken them up on this offer. It’s good for the people in the guild who have been left out in the cold on this one. I am not going to join as I have decided to go solo for a while. I think I like the idea of not playing with a guild. The lone rogue, roaming the lands. I may even transfer off to an RP-PvP server. I do not like the idea of leaving all the friends I have made behind. But the majority of the core raiding team have joined a high end raiding guild and while my play style would be good enough to get me a spot, my time commitment would not.

Things change, life moves on. One door closes but another opens. Wisdom is letting the door close with grace and being able to see the other one that has opened.

I work as a rafting guide in Northern Italy, and being an Australian, the cultural differences can sometimes be interesting, if not amusing. Today I was asked to “work my special magic”, by the other guides. This involves the division of the clients into 6 man teams, not always an easy task. There was a group of 6 men and a group of 5 women that I had to mix together, as 5 lovely ladies just wouldn’t have had the necessary power to get the raft down the river. My “special magic” is my ability to divide them up quickly and without any drama, as most people are resistant to the idea – they want to raft with their friends. The other guides have big problems doing this, but it is their approach that is wrong.

I was thinking about this ability and how it pertains to leadership. Basically, the way that I approach this problem is not to convince them to do it, but to convince them to like it, or at least understand it. But at no point am I giving them a choice in the matter. If they have a choice on whether or not to do it, then there will be resistance to the idea and arguments. I merely try and make them like it or at least understand the need for it. In this case it was easy to make the boys like it, the girls I had to convince by means of explaining the safety issues behind the idea. Job completed in a couple of minutes though, and happy customers all round.

Sometimes when leading a guild, decisions have to be made. The trick is to decide and then talk the others through the idea, but with the same basic principle at hand – you’re not trying to get them to agree to do it, you’re trying to get them to agree to like it or at least see the necessity of it. Sometimes this approach may not be valid. Another way of achieving the same end result is to convince them that they have thought of the idea. Who cares who thought of it, as long as it gets done, right? Right?

Herein lies the problem. When people assume positions of authority, “… the corporal lurks in almost every bosom, and each man tends to use authority when he has it, thus destroying his natural relationship with his fellows …”

Most people are insecure of the decision-making process, and this is mostly due to the fact that they attach themselves to the decision in an emotional way. Thus if the decision or idea was a good one, then they are good, and if it was incorrect then they are bad. A few “bad” ideas in a row quickly reduces them to a nervous wreck, and the normal reaction is to begin to use their authority in a negative way.

The trick is to not use leadership as a means for personal acclaim. It is not important who is seen to be pushing an idea, the important thing is that it gets through. Do not attach yourself emotionally to decisions that you need to make. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, find out why, ask your officers to help you, ask for input so that next time it has a better chance of working. If someone comes up with a better idea them mine, then I am all for pushing it through. My life as a GM is made easier by good ideas and decisions being made. Often at an officers meeting on Vent, I will sit back and let them thrash out all the ideas, while putting a word in here and there. But at a certain point a decision will need to be made, so I will step in and make it. You can talk around an issue for only so long. Eventually something needs to be done.

But too often I have seen leaders who don’t want to decide things. They just want to make everyone happy. This isn’t your job. You are not a happiness coach, you are supposed to be a leader. So lead, decide and then convince. And if it turns out to be the wrong decision, admit that it was wrong and try something else. People don’t mind mistakes, but indecision can quickly become a problem. And don’t get emotional about this stuff. You’re a not a good person if the decision was the right one. You just happened to make the right one this time. Being a leader is about rising above your ego. You’re not out for acclaim, you’re looking for results to move things forward.

I asked one of the girls after the trip if she now understood why I had had to split them up. She still didn’t; some people you just can’t make understand. But that’s okay, the job was done. I probably shouldn’t have even asked her. But no matter how much we try and rise above it, sometimes we still want people to tell us that we’re good. I’ll have to do better next time.

The quoted text is from “The Ionian Mission” by Patrick O’Brian.

Today I will take you through my processes for leading a guild. I am using guild leadership as an example but this could easily be used when leading a raid. I am not going to cloak this in academic-speak. I am merely going to explain my own approach in a working-content style. Firstly, when forming the guild I needed to have strong people around me. At the end of the day, WoW for me is a game and a hobby and I have many tasks in real life which I need to devote time to. So I wasn’t able to set this up with the majority of the day to day running tasks falling on my own shoulders. I wanted several people around me that I knew I could trust to do tasks well when I was not around.
As stated in Part 1, this is called delegation. You must have good people working with you in a guild. If you try to do everything yourself then you will become snowed under by the workload, things will not get done, people will complain, you will feel upset at nobody understanding everything you are doing, etc. It won’t work. And the guild will fall apart if you leave. Get capable people working with you and entrust them with important tasks. You need to step back and see the big picture. Tweak it here and there when needed. If no tweaking is necessary, keep your hands off. The best leadership is unobtrusive. It makes the times when you need to step in more effective also.
Communication. But how? What are the most effective methods? I use several means of communication. The first is the guild website and specifically its forum. Each guild member is encouraged to regularly check the forum for new information. Which means that I must regularly put new information there. Your communication method must be dynamic. It must involve people. There is no use setting up a forum and then hardly ever using it. The few times that you put up information, don’t expect it to be read. I also communicate in-game. A whisper here and there to the right people can have a good effect. I try to have an officers meeting every few weeks on Ventrillo. And in all these cases I am trying to listen to what people have to say. I don’t talk to one officer and then make an important decision. That may be enough to alienate the entire guild, on a subject that you thought was fairly straightforward. I am always trying to put myself in the other persons shoes, to see the issue from their perspective.

With all of this comes feedback. People want to know how they are going. If I ask someone to lead a raid that I am not on, I take the time in the days afterward to find out how it went. Tell people they did a good job, that way when you have to tell them something that they might not like hearing they will be more open to any negative criticism. This goes hand in hand with communication, but a lot of people make the mistake that communication is just telling people what to do. It’s not. Listening and feedback are just as important in the communication stakes.

A good leader for me has balance. How I talk to one person may be very different with how I respond with another. Each person needs stimulus in different ways. Taking the time to get to know your people will help you greatly in communicating. Does this mean that I know every person in the guild this way? No, it’s not possible. But at the least I know the person above them in this way. You must also balance situations. What might be good for the individual may not be good for the guild. Being able to recognise these situations and taking the right decisions is very important.

Which leads me to my final points. A leader has to make decisions. A leader has to be seen to be making decisions. If a problem comes up, fix it. If someone comes to you with a problem, deal with it. Sound obvious? Perhaps it is. But the obvious things are often forgotten in my experience. Making decisions and making them well will install confidence and trust in you from your members. They know that if they have a problem it will be handled well. If you make the wrong decision, that’s fine. Fix it when you realise your mistake and admit that you were incorrect. You must be impartial in your decisions and unemotional. If you attach yourself to your decisions in an emotional way, then it will be difficult for you to admit that you were wrong. When conflict becomes emotional, good sense goes out the window. Things can be said that cannot be easily retracted after you have cooled down.

You must think long term. Often, the decision that is easier to make in the short term will not be beneficial in the long term. The decision that is tough to make today will relieve you from a world of pain in the future. An example of this is a guild member whose behavior upsets people but who is a valuable and key member from a raiding point of view. What do you do? Do you keep him, thus helping your raids to be a success? Well, they will be a success in the short term, but in the long term you might not be left with enough people to raid as they have left after dis-satisfaction with this individual.

Ok, time for the last point. Be impartial. No favorites, no special treatment, particularly with officers. Do not accept gifts, whether gold, mats, potions or items without giving them back in kind. Last night four of us ran Karazhan for a bit of a laugh. I am an enchanter, and there was another enchanter in the group as well. A rare enchant dropped which neither of us had. Did I want it? Absolutely. Did I need it? Not really, but it would have been nice. I didn’t even roll, I just gave it to my guildie. Sometimes, as a leader, a small gesture like this can count for a lot more than you would believe. Do you want your guildies to behave well, to be fair, to think of others before themselves? Yes? Then do it yourself. As a leader you lead by example. What you do will be noticed. Do it well.

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.