Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How Video Games Helped Me in Leadership

 "Alright, for Phase 1, I need everyone to take out the adds. Phase II, step on your plate the second I tell you to and not a moment sooner. Phase III we will DPS the boss. Phase IV we need to hide behind the runes so as not to be killed by his AOE. It will reset after that. Everyone ready? Alright, let's start it up!"
I am a sucker for a co-operative game. Competitive multiplayer is great, but working together to overcome a task in an MMO or squad based game has always been a treat to me. Random strangers banding together and fighting a common enemy is a favorable past time. The less skilled player falling quickly, the veterans rushing to save the day with a sliver of health, the overall feeling of satisfaction of completing a difficult goal; I live for moments like that in gaming. What I did not realize is that the very game in which I was taking and giving orders was shaping me into something I never expected. A leader.

My first experience with leadership came with a little game called World of Warcraft. After spending time with a guild and successfully running difficult raids, I was promoted to a guild admin. Third tier, but important enough to demote certain guild members if needed and lead our "tanks" in the guild, the players responsible for keeping the boss' focus. I offered strategies, gave gear advice, and even ran new members through dungeons for dry runs to see how they interact and perform with our guildmates. I was thrust into the role of a leader.

It was not always pretty. In one instance I had two guild mates arguing back and forth, and only I was online to handle it. After warning them to settle it or drop it, I demoted one of the parties I felt was at fault without attempting to come to a win-win for both involved. That person left, and their wife left with them. Their wife was a high tier admin, higher than myself. I acted rashly and it cost the guild a prime player, and the other guild leaders were none too pleased. It was a lesson I took with me. Sure, it was a video game, but it was also a rash decision I made that hurt morale for our guild.

Squad Goals

Back in the real world, lessons I learned from WoW, Left 4 Dead, Gears of War, and other cooperative games were being carried over into my school and work life. I often took command without realizing it whenever groups were formed in college, using a backbone I forged online to deal with difficult members I otherwise would have passive aggressively ignored. I knew that if you remained confident and encouraging, you could overcome anything.

So what traits of a good leader are showcased in games that you may not even realize? Below is a list of the most common traits of what makes a good leader, and the many times I have encountered this in gaming. [1]

THE most important thing in the world for a leader based on all the training I have experienced in the real world. Leaders tell it like it is, no sugar coating it. They are quick to call you out on things you do wrong, without passively ignoring your action to be repeated.

I remember playing Team Fortress 2 and being called out for playing a Sniper poorly. While usually decent, I was not doing well and pulling my weight. Instead of getting upset, he convinced me to go Medic, and we were able to accomplish much more together. He could have easily allowed me to continue occasionally getting a kill or two, but instead was honest and upfront, swaying me to a more useful class and assisting in making our team stronger and more effective. It was a small example of a leader stepping forward, telling it like it is, and influencing others.

"Is there a manual for this fight?...I'm gonna just shoot the bad things"
-Ability to Delegate-
Self-Explanatory. Someone has to lead, and not be timid about it. I have seen some players come in lay down a few orders then back off. Others too headstrong, practically standing over your shoulder issuing commands. I have been in random groups that were failing miserably until someone decided to step up and take charge. "You stand there, you focus adds, you overheal me when he enrages." It is as common as ever with pug runs (pick-up groups), and something I find myself doing in the real world often.

If you do not explain how to achieve a goal and have everyone understand, you will not meet your goal. True in life, true in gaming. In any encounter, people need to know what to do, this is incredibly important in a lot of the more difficult levels of gaming. Recently, the Destiny raid from Taken King acts as a prime example; with complex encounters requiring players to know their role and perform it as expected. We had an instance where we hopped into a group with no explanation, no communication at all, and ignoring any ounce of caution decided to dive head first into the final Oryx encounter. It was disastrous, and frustrations eventually led people to quit.

It is easy to get discouraged or intimidated by a large project, but a confident leader can make a huge difference. Gaming helped build a sense of that in a way. When I took charge in a game and effectively lead a team to victory or accomplished a challenge, that small boost in confidence was infectious. It incentivizes you to try more difficult challenges, to push to become better, to strive to be above average. Little victories in gaming, much like that in work, can only push you forward toward the want and need for a constant challenge to overcome.

Likewise a confident leader was a trusted one. I dropped into a random group in Diablo 3 on a very high difficulty, and a very well versed player stepped up to take charge. This player's prior experience and know how boosted his confidence, and that confidence lead us to effectively overcome the more difficult enemies in our path.
-Positive Attitude-
Wiping on a raid for the tenth time can be discouraging. It takes that one person to say "We got this, we are making progress!" to really solidify your deposition. I have been in far too many negative, downtrodden raids in my time, and each one leaves you defeated. It was the raid with a leader vowing to return and noting improvement that really kept me wanting to come back and try again.

I remember a few months ago, I led a brand new fire team through Destiny's latest raid, King's Fall. These were dads, coworkers, friends; so not exactly pros. It took a lot of patience but it also took explaining fights in a manner that made sense to everyone. Not getting angry or frustrated, but being understanding and trying different methods. After we made it to the second boss to call it a night, I woke up to a text from one of the friends who brought in the new players. He thanked me for not only being patient, but encouraging throughout the raid, and said the new players were eager to get back to it.

I am no expert on leadership, and in my current job I primarily work with coworkers and lead on occasion; but I am finding the same skills and traits are transferable. Social interaction within gaming can be immature at times and try your patience, but I truly believe it can also shape you for the better as well. That high tier Paladin who leads you into battle may very well be the next great leader in a company.

[1] - Forbes - Top 10 Qualities That Make a Good Leader -

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