Rules will be rules
Each and every raid or guild has a set number of rules and regulations that they expect their members to follow. These are usually listed on the guild website or explained clearly at the start of a raid to newer members. Despite this, most of these rules don't actually address the more common issues encountered within a raid setting.
For the most part, these rules address loot and attendance. There may be a few generalized social rules, such as no talking during raid encounters, but these are generally the social norm; it's pretty common knowledge that you shouldn't chit-chat over Vent while attempting a boss. What usually isn't addressed are the more free-form issues that often arise.
If you ever managed to sneak into our Vent server during a raid night, the most common phrase you'd probably hear would be, "Murmurs, shut up." During raids, I tend to be a fairly social person, talking, laughing, joking, things of that nature -- and this isn't uncommon, either. There are several people in my guild who are similar, and these people exist in most other guilds as well. Yet that simple phrase creates a rather complex philosophical question.
What is the extent of a raid leader's control? Does a raid leader have absolute authority over all things in all situations? Is it expected that I would obey such a command?
Creating a social environment
I would imagine (or at least hope) that there's a variety of responses to those questions. I am sure there are those out there who feel that, yes, the raid leader's word is effectively "law," and if I'm told to shut my mouth, then I should shut my mouth. On the other hand, there are those who would say that the request needs to be within reason. Asking me to shut up for no practical reason is rather silly.
The truth is that both and neither are correct. Although each raid will have its set rules listed and defined, the actual social dynamic of a raid is determined by the raid consensus -- that is to say, the collective belief in socially acceptable behavior held by a raid group.
In one raid group, it might be expected that if a raid leader tells you to do something, you do it without thinking, without objecting. In another raid, it might be viewed as silly to think that a raid leader is some supreme dictator given some form of divine right to lord over the rest of the players. Some raids might find it more acceptable to openly question things such as strategy over Vent; others might feel it is best to bring these issues up in whispers. It is all a matter of what the raid collectively believes to be acceptable.
Keep in mind that I am not speaking in terms of things that occur during an actual encounter. I doubt most people would think it's acceptable to tell your raid leader "no" when told to switch healing assignments or interrupt a certain ability in the middle of the battle. What I am talking about are the social rules that apply outside of encounters.
It may seem a trivial topic, yet it is this social contract, so to speak, that creates the entire atmosphere of a raid group, which is a huge factor in how well a raid performs, raider retention, and raider happiness.
What makes a raid leader?
Although each raid group is different, I would say to every raid leader to expect and accept that you probably don't have absolute authority. Raid leaders are under a lot of stress and pressure -- I know, I was one for quite a long time -- but a vast majority of that has to deal with the social dynamics of any given raid group.
Most raiders I'm sure honestly believe that their raid groups are "perfect" (or at least "good"). They don't have drama spilling out all over the raid chat, they don't have yelling matches or people screaming at each other over Vent, and they probably don't have major personal conflicts. It's possible those people do have a perfect raid group; however, often the case is that they simply have a fantastic raid leader.
Leading a raid is not about choosing where the guild is going for that night. It isn't about configuring strategies or making on-the-fly battle assessments. Those are things that a raid leader has to do, but it's probably only around 30% of the actual "work." Instead, the vast majority of a raid leader's job is to keep the drama under control, to keep every little nasty, dirty thing that happens behind the scenes, behind the scenes.
I was once a part of a fantastic guild that ran via loot council. For a time, I was raid leader and even guild leader. In the several years that I was with this team, never once did anyone ever say that we had loot drama. In fact, one of the major selling points that our guildies would bring up was that we literally had no loot issues at all. To this day, I can honestly say that we only ever lost one person in the raid to a loot issue, and that was because the fellow was just a crazy.
Those people had no idea. There were loads of loot issues constantly going on; virtually everything was a "problem" or an "issue" of some form or another. I can say that I spent more time putting out fires over loot than anything else. Yet no one ever knew. That's a raid leader's job: to keep the drama quiet, contained, and out of the public eye. Trust me, it sucks.
What raid leaders really do
It is important to understand the role of a raid leader for one reason: They have to keep the social order. What the social order is in any given raid group is drastically different from that in others. There are raids where silence in Vent is expected, where there isn't any measure of joking or playful banter. This isn't because the players are dull or unfriendly toward each other; some of them just need that to focus, and because of this, the raid naturally creates a social atmosphere where it is frowned upon to behave in a demonstrative manner. In this situation, having the raid leader tell you to "shut up" means you pretty much better do it.
On the other hand, there are guilds that are highly talkative, that socialize with each other during raids frequently and joke or tease each other constantly. In this situation, it may never happen that the raid leader tells raiders to quiet down, or if he does, it might be understood as a joke and not a dictatorial demand.
The important thing for the raid leader (and in fact the raid) to understand is what it is that a raid wants and to then do his best to accommodate that sentiment. If a raid group expects or accepts commanding, dictator-like leadership, then that is how a raid leader should behave. If the raid doesn't respond kindly to demands or orders, then change your approach.
I have found that the biggest reason that any raid leader fails is because he doesn't understand what it is that the raid group wants in terms of leadership. Often, they attempt to enforce a specific form of leadership that isn't what the raid collectively expects and therefore are met with resistance. This will cause the raid leader to become frustrated and probably quit.
Although a raid leader behaving like a highly antagonistic tyrant is usually the most common form of this, it isn't always the case. The "nice" raid leaders who are sweet and polite can just as often find themselves being subverted by other raid members left and right. In those cases, the raiders feel that raid leader isn't strict enough, and the more demanding raid leader would actually keep order better.
There is no wrong or right way to be a raid leader; it all depends on what the raid itself expects. There will be times and there will be raids where the classical "dickish" raid leader is the most effective. There will be times when the classic "pushover" raid leader is the better choice.
Bringing in new raiders
On top of raid leaders, there are also new raiders to consider. Every time that a raid gains a new raider, it causes a disturbance in the social consensus of a group. Since each person has his or her own personal views on these matters, a new player different in views thus potentially changes the entire dynamic. Now, one person isn't going to usually have a huge impact on the social dynamic of a raid group -- but it is entirely possible.
A raid group that is only partially social in nature may suddenly become highly social and talkative after introducing a single highly social person into the mix. Similarly, a more reserved and quiet person might have the opposite effect, reducing the social nature of a raid. This is often why guilds look for "fit" when getting new members. Although the "game" part of WoW is important, the social aspect is as well, and guilds will take or pass on players that they feel won't fit into the social consensus of their raid despite the need for the player's class or spec.
We see it all the time yet often don't openly acknowledge what it is. Comments such as, "Oh, he really seemed like a jerk" are exactly the type of thing I'm talking about. In that social outlook, the person seemed inappropriate and raiders felt the player wouldn't "fit in" with the rest of the raid. To another raid group with a different social dynamic, that player may seem nice, kind, and humorous.
As a new raider, you have to be aware of the nature of the raid that you are getting into. As important as clearing content is, the social side of WoW honestly does make or break your experiences. It's a tired cliché, but "just be yourself" is the best advice that you can have for anything in this game.
If you are in a raiding group that you feel conflicts with your personality, chance are it's because the people you're raiding with don't share your social traits. You have to make a choice. Staying will cause you conflict, and it will cause you frustration. If you can handle it, then great, go for it. If you feel that you might end up hating the game simply because of the people you play with, it might be time to find a new guild.
Ready Check shares all the strategies and inside information you need to take your raiding to the next level. Be sure to look up our strategy guides to Cataclysm's 5-man instances, and for more healer-centric advice, visit Raid Rx.