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Lessons from the Virtual World #1

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LESSONS FROM THE GAMING WORLD by Jeon Rezvani (Edited by Isaiha)

Article #1: LEADERS

What is leadership? Who are the real leaders? What is effective leadership? What do leaders do? What behavioral traits do leaders exhibit? in this article, I hope to address these and other questions like them.

Leaders Are Influence Change Agents

Online Gaming lead me to conclude that, at its core, leadership is all about the ability to influence change. Whether I was attempting to convince a recruit to join my guild or persuading a group of people on an expedition to take a chance on a new strategy that I was proposing, everything always came down to influencing a change.

The Guild or Clan Leader in MMO's today is equivalent to a functional CEO in a corporation. The buck stops at the guild leader. He or she can have a variety of responsibilities, from establishing the organizational reporting structure of officers to being the overall compass that guides all the activities of the guild. Change can happen in a plethora of ways. It happens directly, through avatar-to-avatar interactions, or indirectly, simply because of something that someone has done or said. Ultimately, leaders are always pushing for change. If you don't need change, you don't need a leader. Guild leaders are never happy with remaining static. They always focus on going farther and faster, on heading deeper into complex challenges, etc.

An example of influence might materialize when a guild leader realizes that his guild is lacking a certain archetype role (perhaps they are short on healers). He needs either to recruit a new person to join the guild or to convince an existing guild member to set aside his or her current character in favor of creating a character that the guild "needs." The same is true in the real world. It isn't always possible to align a person's passions with the tasks at hand. A manager may need to influence an employee to head down a different career path due to what's best for the company and the employee.

"Influence" is commonly defined as the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others. That summarizes what a leader does: impel someone to action which causes a change to occur. When that change produces the intended or expected result, then the leader's influence was effective. The term "Influence" is to be distinguished from "manipulate," which connotes influencing in an unfair manner.

This leads to the conclusion that effective leadership is effective influencing, and leaders are influence change catalysts.

Leaders Don't Always Have the Title
The true leader in a guild is whoever wields the most influence, which isn't always the guild leader or the guild officers. The true leader is the person who has the most followers - the person to whom everyone listens during times of indecision. This individual will probably be a longtime, well-respected member or a former officer. He or she might be someone in the gaming community who is well known and usually the one to whom everyone turns when there is seemingly no hope.

Similarly, in the real world, the leader doesn't always have the title. For example, when a computer system is down, the person who leads the people around him towards resolution might be a mid-level employee whose job description doesn't necessarily include resolving system-down issues. Why him? Perhaps he has the experience, initiative or drive, or maybe he has established the trust of his co-workers. He may not have the most senior title in the room, but he is the one who steps up to lead everyone through the challenge at hand. Another example might be when a group of teachers turns towards the most experienced teacher rather than a new principal when seeking guidance and leadership during a time of crisis. I would wager that if Microsoft went into a massive slump, all eyes would turn to Bill Gates more than whoever might be holding the CEO title at the time. Leaders serve because to them, it is the right thing to do, title or no title.

Everyone is a Point-In-Time Leader

There are multiple opportunities to lead in massively multiplayer online games. The environment is conducive to what I call "point-in-time leadership" or "sudden leadership"; this occurs at a distinct period of time, lasts for a set duration, and is either voluntary or involuntary.

This can happen frequently in the online world, and it is often a trial-by-fire induction into leading a raid. The raid leader is sometimes a figurehead in MMORPG's - and his "death" can kill morale. Confusion can quickly set in when that individual isn't making the split-second decisions required to navigate successfully through the battle. If the raid leader's internet service provider forces a dropped connection, then sudden voluntary leadership may be required. If no one steps up immediately to bring focus back to the battle, invariably avatars will die. This can happen quickly and be for a short period of time- perhaps until the raid leader's connection resolves itself or until the combat is over. The need for leadership often happens faster than the luxury of consensus-based decision making will allow - a moment's hesitation can cause massive loss. Literally months of work can be lost without quick, decisive leadership.

Change Anything That Doesn't Seem Right

There are no bounds to influence in the world. There are, however, perceived bounds that people arbitrarily create for themselves and which act as self-imposed constraints. My take on this cramping of one's own style is very simple: if you don't like the rules of the game, then change the rules; change the game. If a policy exists in the real world that you don't agree with, work to improve it. If your company doesn't buy into social responsibility, strive to show the business value of adopting sustainable practices.

One area where gamers sometimes feel imprisoned and unable to adequately influence change is around class and rank balance. There is almost always a perception that other classes and ranks are more powerful than the class role or rank which one is occupying. It takes a significant amount of time and effort to build yourself up, so most are unwilling to start over. A common response by players who experience this "grass is greener" syndrome is often to complain, do nothing, or start over. I've been guilty of all three. However, I would always embark on strategies to induce the change that I perceived would yield better balance. Sometimes that would involve gaining the trust and respect of the community, yet ultimately, it was always about influencing the change that I felt was needed to preserve the community's and game's long-term viability and integrity. Striving to rectify any imbalance was always one of my highest priorities.

In the real world, I have seen people feel similarly constrained about their jobs and compensation. Don't be. You have an infinite number of options at your disposal. On your own time, you could learn how compensation was established and then look to grow the responsibilities of your job. You could actively seek out more opportunities for growth/compensation. You could research how you might pursue a different career direction, etc. If your situation doesn't feel right, then strive to change it.

Time after time in my online career, I refused to accept anything that didn't feel right. Whether it was game mechanics or player-to-player bias, I welcomed challenging the status quo. I focused on doing and saying what I thought was right, regardless of the politics of the situation or what the potential outcome might be. If there was a problem, then it demanded action and change. Whining was useless - it generally did not yield change.

Leaders focus less on whining and more on fixing. They are the influence change agents who make sure that whatever doesn't feel right is resolved. I was never interested in collaborating with people who only complained without ever feeling compelled to influence change needed to improve the situation. Challenge the issue, don't lose to it. There are no limits to what change you can influence. Your are limited only by your imagination and by whatever you allow to limit you.

Here are some key traits of Guild/Clan Leaders:

-Guild Leaders are Passionate, Positive, and Confident
-Guild Leaders are Assertive
-Guild Leaders are Self-Aware
-Guild Leaders are Capable
-Guild Leaders have Integrity
-Guild Leaders Listen
-Guild Leaders Support/Enable


I hope this article, as long as it was, helped you understand Leaders as Influence Change Agents. In summation, the leader is the person with the most influence, not necessarily the person with the title. Leaders influence so that positive change occurs. Leaders often never actually meet the people they lead, yet they still manage to build trusting relationships.

The online environment and the game mechanics themselves create point-in-time leadership opportunities and foster leadership development. The real world also has the same opportunities for people to utilize their leadership skills. Influence challenges are great learning opportunities and are effective confidence-building activities.

Leaders change anything that doesn't feel right. They are passionate, positive, confident, assertive, self-aware, and are both gifted coaches and stellar athletes
Leaders come from within the ranks of the gaming community, and often act as counselors, therapists, and advisers to the members on real-life issues. They are capable, they listen, and most importantly support and enable those around them.
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  1. [zG]Isaiha's Avatar
    Great material and more to come from an excellent author Jeon Rezvvani. I own the book and all of this came from it! Look forward to posting more from his book
  2. [zG]DrMath's Avatar
    I would be curious to see how you apply this model to zG's leadership.
  3. [zG]Isaiha's Avatar
    I wouldn't apply this to ZG as it's a generalized look at clan/guild leadership. Every clan is different obviously, but alot of the stuff in it is interesting and insightful. I know for me personally I fail in alot of ways with some of the stuff he writes about.

    Unless I'm misunderstanding what your saying.
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