I have mostly steered clear of politics in this column. Very early on, in the second or third column I wrote for WoW Insider, I made an offhand joke about the current administration that set off a firestorm of argument in the comments section. It really had nothing to do with the column at all, so I found the situation extremely unproductive. I decided I'd never do that again.
But I was there in D.C. last Tuesday and I wanted to share some of my observations about how to handle a transfer of power. It's a situation that can come up from time to time in a guild when a long-time leader has to step down for personal reasons -- or in democratic guilds when a leader is voted out. Let's talk about how Bush and Obama handled everything and what we can learn from their example.
1. If you're the outgoing leader, keep your mouth shut.
Although I disagreed with many of his policies, I have to tip my hat to Bush for staying out of the news as much as possible and letting Obama have the spotlight. As an outgoing leader, it's all too easy to criticize the new guy who has no idea what he or she has just signed up for. You may have held the position for a long time, but you had to learn your lessons from experience, and your successor will have to as well. If he or she asks for your advice, give it, but don't step in where you aren't wanted. Your time is done.
2. As the new leader, embrace all your guild members, not just your officers.
In many inaugural addresses, the incoming president has begun his speech by acknowledging the high-ranking members of government who were there to witness it. Obama eschewed this opening and began his speech with the simple phrase, "My fellow citizens." In doing so, he addressed all of us, not just the powerful or the wealthy.
In his address, Obama used the word "I" sparingly. In contrast, he used the word "we" many times. His speech was not just a promise to do his best to address the problems of the nation he now leads, but also a plea to each American to take up the cause and do what we can to help. In his words, "For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies."
No leader can do everything alone. Nor can he or she do it all with just a select few. All must do their part. Just so, a new guild leader should reach out to every member to help make the guild better.
3. Be frank about the problems as you see them.
Obama did not shy away from listing all the many issues that plague the United States at this moment in history, from our economic challenges to our damaged reputation in the world. The first step toward fixing a problem is acknowledging that it exists.
A new guild leader should do likewise -- tell your members where you see room for improvement in the guild. Don't be afraid to solicit their input for solutions. Just because you're in charge doesn't mean you automatically have all the right answers.
The outgoing leader may not like what you have to say if he or she was responsible for some of the problems you list. In such cases, condemn the policy -- never the person.
4. Don't create unrealistic expectations.
Obama didn't promise to fix every problem in the next four years. Rather, he told us that the challenges we face "will not be met easily or in a short span of time." He told us his intentions and gave us his vision for the country, but he never said it would happen overnight. He said we must "[give] our all to a difficult task."
Likewise, don't tell your members that everything will be perfect just because you're in charge now. Promise too much, too soon, and you'll only disappoint them. It's far better to identify your intentions. That way, even if you ultimately fail, at least they knew what you stood for and what you were trying to accomplish.
Leading a country like the United States is obviously way more difficult and important than leading a guild, but we can still learn from our presidents, past and present. Leadership is leadership no matter how you slice it.
In any case, all of this is merely my interpretation of events. I'm sure all of you have your own take on it, so fire away!