The Guild Counsel: Am I a leader?

Last week, in response to the article about dealing with guild complaints, there was a somewhat provocative comment from reader Graill440, who questioned the use of the word "leader" when referring to guild leaders. In his comment, he made the following point:
"While the article is great in terms of what kids and some adults do in a guild, the misnomer that 'leaders' are created in a game of any type or simply because you wear the abused tag 'guildleader' is absurd. I have no problem with the term guildmaster, GM, stratman, stratperson, roteman, etc., but labeling or calling anyone who plays a game a leader because of that particular game is plain wishful thinking."
While it did put some on the defensive, it's a point worth examining more closely. As Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday would say, "I'm your huckleberry." In this week's Guild Counsel, we'll take a look at whether guild leaders possess enough qualities to actually call themselves leaders.

First off, let's stipulate that not every guild leader is truly a leader. We've all been in or crossed paths with guilds with very poor leadership. But it's worth noting that in practically every one of these guilds, failed leadership leads to a guild's demise. You can conduct yourselves like trained monkeys (to use Graill's example), and that might work for a few months or even a year or two. But for those guilds that have been around for years (and some even for decades), leadership takes a lot more than that.

When you think about leadership careers outside of game, you think of teachers, politicians, coaches, business executives, and military commanders. Guild leadership, if done right, actually touches on leadership qualities from all of these careers. Here are a few examples from my own experiences to illustrate this:

Teacher. Just as a good teacher tries to find a variety of ways to instruct the class, a good guild leader will consider more than one method of instructing a raid. During one raid in EverQuest's Temple of Veeshan, our guild was repeatedly wiping due to poor mob placement. Despite my pleas to keep the mob centered in the room, our 60+ man juggernaut raid force always ended up nudging the drake toward the wall, which would aggro a train of drakes from down the hall. What I ended up doing was using the corpse of one of our Bards to mark the spot where we needed to hold the mob. Having that visual marker worked so well that we ended up using that on future raids (only with a Gnome instead of a Bard).

Coach. All guild leaders have to motivate their members to achieve the larger guild goal. Some do it through fear; others do it through encouragement. But whatever the method, it's an important part of leading a successful guild. It can be the simplest thing that works to rally members around the objective. During our Plane of Hate raids in EQ, there was one particular mob that used to spam the zone non-stop with threatening messages. We ended up making a little game out of it, and every time he'd yell a message, we'd all respond with "hi." It actually made clearing trash fun, and would even lift people's spirits after a wipe. It might seem like a small thing, but it helped remind us of our camaraderie and keep us focused on the larger goal.

Boss. I haven't been in the position of having to hire and fire people, although I have had to cut players from teams I've coached. Managing a roster, whether it's workers at a business, players on a team, or members in a guild, requires similar skills. You need to carefully screen prospective members, manage overall numbers to give you the most effective force, and trim numbers as needed.

Diplomat. This skill might not be as needed in a game with heavy instancing, but in an open-world MMO with lots of competition, it's a necessity. I've had to negotiate with other guilds in the past, and there were some guild leaders whom I absolutely detested. But I still had a friendly relationship with them because it was in our best interest to work with them.

General. As a guild leader, I've often had to make fast tactical decisions in the middle of a fight. I've even had to keep an eye out for spies within our ranks (yes, I have come across members from other guilds who tried to infiltrate ours on other characters). Early on, our guild had a large number of Navy guys from a base in Virginia Beach, and they used to comment how much the guild structure resembled a military chain of command. I used to be surprised at how many men and women in the armed services play MMOs, but eventually I realized that it was just a logical extension of their experiences in the military -- the camaraderie, the shard objectives, the idea of team over individual -- we did all of that (although in a much safer environment). I'm certainly not trying to equate playing a pointy-eared Elven Ranger to being a military officer, but there are a few parallels when it comes to leadership qualities.

And that's the real question -- can we in all honestly equate leading a guild with other careers that require leadership skills? I can attest to the fact that it does require leadership skills to run a guild, and yet I'm not even comfortable with putting them on equal pedestals. For every time that I've had my experiences with teaching and coaching help me be a better guild leader, I can probably name you five other examples that go the other way. Without question, leading a guild made me a better teacher and coach. But it's the context and the environment that makes it hard to draw a parallel. How do you attempt to argue that a robe-wearing Gnome and Henry Kissinger both share the same mastery of diplomacy, or that a Shim Human Monk with a penchant for swearing is as good a motivator as Mike Krzyzewski? Both of these players I've met in game, and I'm willing to bet that many of you have met memorable leaders too. But while both had incredible talents for out-thinking the competition in the chess match and inspiring members to do more than they ever thought they could do, I don't think the average person could ever be convinced of their skills, because it's all done behind a pixelated curtain.

So if you display all of these types of leadership qualities when running your guild, but you don't hold a leadership position outside of game, are you a leader? I would have to say yes. Leadership in MMOs is valid, and while people might not be ready to lump it in with other leadership careers, it's catching the eye of those who are in those fields. Businesses like IBM have studied it and learned from it. Teachers are beginning to use MMOs to teach things like foreign languages. And even the military is studying our hobby and constructing an MMO to examine the issue of Somali piracy. Guild leaders might not look like leaders if you pass them on the street, and they might not even hold leadership positions outside the game. But the good ones most certainly do possess, and use, leadership qualities in common with careers such as teaching and coaching. For that reason, they should be referred to as such.

Do you have a guild problem that you just can't seem to resolve? Have a guild issue that you'd like to discuss? Every week, Karen Bryan takes on reader questions about guild management right here in The Guild Counsel column. She'll offer advice, give practical tips, and even provide a shoulder to lean on for those who are taking up the challenging task of running a guild.

This article was originally published on Massively.