LF CEO Material: Everything I Needed to Know About Leadership, I Learned from World of Warcraft

Whenever people ask me why I don’t watch as much anime as I used to, I always mutter something about work keeping me busy before scuttling away in a cloud of self-loathing. And to be fair, work is certainly a big part of it, as is a social life and all those other things I gather I’m supposed to be focusing on as a mature and responsible adult (AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAhaaaa… sorry, couldn’t keep a straight face).

But between you and me? I blame World of Warcraft.

Yes, I’m a bit of a WoW addict, I admit. While I don’t spend nearly as much time as I used to when I first started, I still raid regularly twice a week. It’s not entirely my fault either (or so I tell anyone who gives me the side-eye). I’m pretty much the go-to raid leader (and main tank) for my guild, and given the history of occasional drama and “no, I don’t like THAT guy leading, or THAT guy, or THAT guy, so you have to do it, M,” it’s not a job I see myself vacating any time soon.

And yes, it is in many ways a job… a really fun and rewarding job, and one that I am pleased and proud to do, but a HARD job none the less. Why? Well, it requires a lot of the same skills you’d need in any leadership position, even high end leadership like a CEO position. Sure, the scale might be different, but the metaphorical muscles getting a workout – people management, motivation, decisiveness – are the same. I think Tycho of Penny Arcade said it best when he said that he wanted the next President of the United States to have managed a guild as proof of fireforged leadership qualities.

So while raid leadership isn’t exactly going to get you a high-flying corporate job, it may be helping you develop some of the skills you need to get there, or even just to show leadership in your day-to-day life. And for those that scoff and scorn the idea that raiding and WoW can impart useful skills… /sit and listen to my list of useful skills learned and used by those weathered veterans, the raid leaders.

 

5. Research

It’s your first time taking down Deathwing, and everyone is raring to go. Swords have been sharpened, gear has been enchanted, and people are already cheerfully bidding on the loot that might drop. You begin the encounter and… wait, how come everyone just died?

One of the most basic things a raid leader must do is be prepared for the fights. That means doing research on each boss; what are their mechanics? What does the big giant glowy spot mean? How do you respond to it? Of course, ideally everyone should have done the research for themselves, but it is still the responsibility of the raid leader to understand each aspect and explain it in a helpful way. This is particularly true if you’re bringing in new players who need concise instructions and summaries. The same could be said of real life as well. One doesn’t lead a business knowing nothing and then saying, “Oh, huh, I forgot to check out what the legal rules of X were, whoops!” Unfortunately, wiping in real life tends to have rather larger consequences than running back to the dungeon entrance; at least WoW lets you get your feet wet without having too much in the way of consequences!

4. Organizational skills

It’s 9:05, and the raid was originally due to start at 9:00. You had 11 guild members sign up, but only 7 are on, and you’re still short a tank and healer. People are getting restless, but your only options are the varied friends lists of your team (many of whom are already in their own raids) or the seething, teeming pit of Trade Chat. While you dither on whether to wait for your other signups or try to assemble random volunteers, you hear the dreaded words over Vent: “While we’re waiting, I’m gonna go make some dinner.”

Forming a raid is very much akin to herding cats, in that both cats and your raid crew are lovable and adorable creatures with the attention spans of gnats and the time awareness of a senile, bizarro Time Lord (another shared trait: a deep and unquenchable hatred for you and all you stand for). People are coming and going, showing up late or wandering away from the computer if they don’t expect to go in the next thirty seconds, and all during this, you have to balance the growing impatience of your team versus their potential impatience if you end up grabbing some yahoo on trade chat who doesn’t know that the pointy end of his dagger goes in the bad guy.

Learning how to manage this intrepid adventuring team can be one of the biggest challenges a raid leader faces, but you’d better believe they come away with some better idea of how to get things moving at a proper time. A good leader knows how to set time limits as well as delegate, and that’s true in all walks of life. A parent knows to tell their kids “You have five minutes, then we’re out the door.” A company manager knows to say, “We’ll have five minutes of open questions, then I want Johnson to bring the meeting back on track and talk about the figures.” A raid leader knows to say, “We’ll wait for the last three people until 9:15, then I’m going to start pugging people; if anyone has friends who’d like to come, message them now and ask if they’d be interested.”

3. Decisiveness

You want to be the good raid leader, the flexible one, the one who your raid loves because you do what THEY want to do. So you ask the fatal question: “What instance do you want to do tonight?”

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a chorus of, “I don’t mind, whatever.” It doesn’t get you any further ahead, but at least it’s better than fifteen minutes of arguing over speedrunning current content vs. trying heroics vs. getting achievements in old content etc etc.

Part of leadership is being able to take the reins and say, “Okay, guys, we are doing THIS.” This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the views of your employees/gaming group/raid team/random strangers into account, of course! But if there’s no clear consensus and people are going in circles, it’s up to the leader to make the call, and World of Warcraft does a good job of developing that skill and helping newbie leaders find their niche between “overly flexible” and “mustache twirling tyrant.” Good raid leads (or leaders of any type) listen to the arguments put forward for each suggestion, then using their own deduction, pick out the best one. They should always be ready to explain their decision – even if it’s just, “I think this strategy will work best for our raid composition,” – but the important thing is that they make it and keep things going. Worst case scenario, you can always change your mind later as long as you clearly lay out your reasoning. Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean you’re not occasionally allowed to be wrong!

2. Prioritization

Huzzah! You’ve defeated one of the bosses and an armor token drops, one that can be used by paladins, priests and hunters. Your tank, a paladin, immediately demands it, pointing out that the main tank should always be the first to gear up to ensure she can survive the rigors of a giant dragon nomming on her face. However, your healer, a priest, points out that the piece is a WAY bigger upgrade for him than for the paladin and so would get much more bang for his buck. Then a hunter chimes in and points out that your paladin and priest didn’t even bother to show up to the last four raids, whereas he’s been in the trenches from the beginning, and he deserves it. Another hunter just shrugs and say, “Just have everyone roll for it?”

The parcelling out of loot can be an exercise in teeth-clenching anxiety. Everyone contributed to killing the boss, and everyone deserves some sort of reward. On the other hand, some people contributed more than others; perhaps they’re more skilled, or have been more dependable and dedicated to the guild’s efforts, or play a more vital raid role, or simply have a better attitude. But even if one of the raiders pets kittens and kills Arthas bare-handed, chances are that someone is going to be annoyed that they were given something… and god help them if they were already given another item earlier in the raid!

In the business world, leaders and managers have to learn how to take stock of their resources and allocate them properly based on their needs, as well as reward members of their team appropriately. If that’s not a summation of what a raid leader needs to do, I don’t know what is. Every team’s needs are different, and the skilled leader will adjust based on those needs and parcel out gear and items based on the “culture” of their raid, whether that’s just an all out free-for-all roll or a politely explained handover to the main tank. Keep the rules of #3 in mind and don’t be afraid to do what’s best for your group. Just don’t abuse your power and keep everything for yourself,’kay?

1. Conflict Management

Oh dear. The paladin in the previous example did not seem pleased that you gave the token to the priest, even after you explained that he needed the upgrade more urgently. She’s not exactly throwing a tantrum, but her responses are getting shorter and curter. And… oh, great, now the warlock is whispering you privately to complain that the paladin is being an idiot. And now the death knight is whispering privately to say that the druid who’s suggesting an alternate strategy for the next fight doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And now the mage is also saying the druid doesn’t know what he’s talking about, except he’s saying it right to the druid’s face. And now the druid is whispering you that you made the wrong call bringing the mage in the first place…

Oh yes. This will end *well.*

Unfortunately, being a leader can involve a lot of being the middle man/woman/person in the feuds and disagreements between your team. This can manifest even more intensely in World of Warcraft than it does in business because, let’s face it, it’s easier to type a private message to someone than to keep a visit to the boss’s office secret. And then, of course, there’s the fact that stuff typed in-game or over the Internet can look even more snotty than intended (remind me to share the story of the time my attempts to help a guildie get more tanking experience deeply offended him and caused him to leave because he… wanted to get more tanking experience. ?_?) So you sit there with an endless stream of private complaints worded in increasingly aggressive terms, and you are expected to Do Something.

This has been one of the things I’ve struggled with most as a leader both in and out of game. At times, I’ve wanted to grab people and shake them, yelling, “Why aren’t you telling HER that she’s wrong/her DPS sucks/you hate her guts/you’re going to try leaping off the boat? Why are you foisting this all on me?” To a certain extent, it’s not actually a bad idea at the core; if you can get the people involved actually speaking to each other rather than using you as their scratching post/messenger, you can enjoy a more comfortable role as mediator rather than go-between. Even if you just manage to jump in and repeat things in a smoother, kinder way (“Your DPS blows monkey chunks!” “I think D00dkillaz is just worried that your DPS may not be quite high enough for this particular boss.”) you can do a lot to ease the conflict. In some cases, however, that’s not an option, and as a leader, you are expected to handle it. Again, it’s up to you as the leader to hear the opinions on both sides, make your own conclusions and observations, and take action (or refuse to take action as the case may be) in order to get the team working smoothly and harmoniously together. And as tough as it is, yes, being a leader means stepping up and taking that responsibility. As funny as it is, this is not the way to run a raid, let alone a business.

 

 

 

So hold your heads high, raid leaders. Keep doing that thing you do. You may feel like you’re struggling over pixlels, but take heart; you’re developing skills (or practicing those you already have) that will stand you in great stead for the rest of your life.

Just don’t let the hunter roll on the strength trinket.

What business, leadership or life skills have you learned from World of Warcraft? How about other geeky pursuits?

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