Teambuilding, Leadership and Management in at least two worlds.

Archives for Leadership category

This post is the third of three which began with:

Becoming a Great Manager – Part 1
Becoming a Great Manager – Part 2

Now let’s distill this down a bit further, and then if you want more, you can read First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. These four areas are called “the Four Keys” of great managers in the book:

1. Choose People For Their Talents

Rule to break: Hire for experience, intelligence, and determination.

When selecting people, select for talent, not simply experience, intelligence, or determination. Skills and knowledge can be taught, talent cannot. Skills are the “how-to’s” of a role, like how to sheep with a focus macro. Knowledge is the information you are aware of, like the importance of Starlight for damage dealers on the Hodir fight. These can be learned, or taught, at any point. Talents, however, relate to reoccurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior in the individual. They have to do with how your individual brain is wired and what you’re good at, that gives you joy. A talent is evidenced by a tank that not only has extreme combat awareness and reaction time, but takes joy in exercising it through protecting the squishy players.

“There is no point in trying to assess people’s abilities without first finding out what they care about.
– Robert J. Thomas

Great managers are excellent at knowing what talents will matter to their teams and organizations, and selecting for them. Also, they have the confidence to hire excellent people and let them perform to their utmost.

“If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.
– David Ogilvy

2. Define the Desired Outcomes

Rule to break: Set expectations by defining the right steps.

When you are setting expectations, focus on outcomes, not the steps to get there. Your people are individuals and may find routes to the goal that you’d never think of. Empower, don’t micromanage. Get obstacles out of the way, provide resources, and point your people in the right direction. They don’t need their hand held every step along the way, and attempting to do so won’t help them grow.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
– General George S. Patton

3. Motivate Based On Their Strengths

Rule to break: Motivate by helping your staff identify and overcome their weaknesses.

Motivate someone to improve their areas of strength, rather than focusing on their weaknesses. Their areas of weakness have to simply be adequate to do the job, any further development effort will pay off much better if focused on their strengths. Don’t expect or require everyone to be equally good at everything, or that’s what you may get, in the most mediocre way possible.

Get to know your people, befriend them even, and learn what makes them special and gives them joy to do well. Support them in developing that!

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he could be, and he will become what he should be.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

4. Promote/Position People Based on Strengths

Rule to break: Develop your staff by helping them learn and get promoted.

Help your members find the right fit for their particular talents and strengths. Don’t move them to a new role, from one they excel at, because it will make them more well-rounded. Never force someone to primarily focus on an area of weakness, especially by deliberately promoting them so that they can “work on it”. Don’t let job descriptions tyranize your organization. If you have a person with the perfect talents for a job that doesn’t exist, which will benefit your organization, create it. Ensure that your organization doesn’t provide rewards and recognition only to people who are promoted up the hierarchy, even if it takes them away from what they’re best at.

“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already.”
– John Buchan

“In a hierarchically structured administration, people tend to be promoted up to their level of incompetence.”
– Lawrence J. Peter

A Final Question

If you comment, perhaps you’d answer a question for me. How many GREAT managers have you known, and why did you think of them that way? Thanks!

In Becoming a Great Manager – Part 1, we talked about the 12 questions that are indicators of a high-performing workplace, according to First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. We’ll continue our discussion of how to become a Great Manager (or Guild Leader) by talking about the rule-breaking the title of the book refers to. The quotations in this article are taken from successful rule-breaking managers interviewed in the book.

Organizational vision, policies, and atmosphere matter, but what matters most to employee performance and retention is the immediate manager. In Wow terms, this is most often the Guild Leader or Raid Leader. You’ve heard it before, and probably experienced it: “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”. The right management is even more important in our gaming organizations, since our members are volunteer “staff”.

The most powerful and “manageable” of the 12 questions are the first 6, and they are about the employee’s perception of whether or not they belong. They are addressed by his or her direct manager’s engagement with the employee as an individual.

“A manager has to remember that he is on stage every day. His people are watching him. Everything he does, everything he says, and the way he says it, sends off clues to his employees. These clues effect performance. So never forget you are on that stage.”

“Never pass the buck.”

Don’t Treat Everyone Equally – Individualize

One of the mostly-unwritten rules of management which the book calls upon us to break is the rule “Everyone should be treated equally”. Of course they shouldn’t. They’re not the same people, or in the same roles, nor do they have the same needs. Each should certainly be treated fairly, but pretending they are the same person in order to do this is simply lazy thinking.

“Make each person comfortable with who they are.”

Most importantly of all, the leader/manager must focus on the strengths of each employee, helping them develop and enhance what they’re good at and excited about. Organizations need great front-line managers that don’t focus on weaknesses. They identify and accept weaknesses, and deal with them by planning  for ways to compensate for them. However, their primary focus and effort is always on best using and developing the employee’s talents and areas of strength.

Get Close to Your Members

Another common belief about management is that leaders must hold themselves aloof from the rank and file. The managers of the most successful teams in the Gallup Study don’t. They get to know their staff on a personal level. They commit on a personal level.

“A lot of listening, a lot of getting to know who they are. It’s ok to become friends.”

“Make very few promises to your people, and keep them all.”

Hire for Talent – What is Talent Anyhow?

The book believes a company is misguided if the job description is so rigid that the person must be bent to conform to it. It’s more valuable to take a really talented person and create the right role just for them. Whatever you do, don’t put someone in a job that isn’t focused on their areas of strength. While skills and knowledge can be built after hiring, talents are something different (more on this in Part 3).

“Hire for talent, and once you’ve hired them, trust them.”

Promote For the Right Reasons

You’re looking for talent when you promote too, particularly to management and leadership positions. Too many organizations exhibit the classic Peter Principle, promoting someone beyond their area of competence (and joy). How many good technical professional’s careers (and those of their direct reports), have been spoiled by promoting them? Just because you’re a great programmer or technical wizard doesn’t mean you can manage people or projects. An amazingly talented and dedicated raider doesn’t necessarily have the right talent and skill for an officer position, and making those roles a “reward” for raiding prowess is a very risky choice for a Guild Leader to make.

“Don’t overpromote people.”

It’s Not About Control

If you think a manager’s main job to to control people, to make them do what they’re supposed to be doing, look again at the first two questions in the list of 12. They are about providing the employee or guild member with a sense of security; imbuing them with the belief that they’ll get the support they need to be successful. Just as you are reading this article to improve your knowledge, because you want to understand successful management, every single hire wants to perform well. Your primary job as a leader is to make sure they know what that looks like, have the resources to do so, have help overcoming organizational roadblocks, and can effectively evaluate and correct their own performance.

You can’t change people, but you can facilitate behavior, and you do this by clarifying expectations and giving consistent and constructive feedback, as well as offering the tools, training and reference materials needed for each role.

As a leader who values teamwork, cooperation and synergy, there are several behaviors that you must learn to be consistently capable of to nourish a supportive atmosphere for your team.

Setting Expectations Is Important

You need to make it clear, from your website, policies and recruiting interviews on through your everyday activities, that teamwork is an expected and important value. It’s about “we”. We defeat dragons together, or sometimes we fail to do so, but we are learning and growing together. We discuss how we can improve.

You Need To Model The Behavior Of A Team Player

There are many ways for you, the leader, to model the behaviors you are hoping to see. Here’s just a few of the most important: Share. Take turns. Don’t (need to) be a hero. Don’t micromanage. Trust. Do your best. Help others respectfully; don’t create co-dependencies. Deal with your own emotional “stuff” instead of dumping it on those around you. If someone bothers or upsets you in some way, ask them about it privately, and as non-confrontationally as you are capable of. Appreciate the people around you. Notice them. Thank them.

Flaws Are Okay, Especially in Leaders

Create an atmosphere where occasional mistakes are ok. Make sure your team has an environment that helps give them the emotional security to admit mistakes. Model what you want to see by admitting your own mistakes. “I blew that, I’ll do better next time” is fine. It’s usually a relief to people when the boss/teacher/leader isn’t perfect, and admits it. It takes the pressure off them to achieve an unrealistic standard of perfection. While some stress can be positive, none of us perform well when too much piles up. If you assume and model the expectation of a supportive environment, most often others will expect that too – and help create it!

I read something a couple of months ago that has stuck in my mind, although unfortunately I don’t remember the source. It was a theory which states that most human beings want to be safely in the middle of their social hierarchy. They don’t want to be leaders, they prefer to be led. They also don’t want to be at the bottom of their respective social hierarchy, they fight for the “middle of the pack” position. The theory is postulating that there’s more than a bell curve at work here.

What Cavemen Have in Common With Your Team

The idea is that most of us, due to a heritage going back to our cavemen days, feel that it’s safest to to be unexceptional, to conform. The leader may have perks, but also has to charge the mammoth first. The weakest of the pack is the one not fed if there’s not enough food to go around. However, the middle of the pack is safe, low risk. Entire organizations can slip into this mindset at times.

bellcurvey

What (Good) Leaders Don’t Want

This can lead to a number of behaviors that leaders don’t want to see in their teams:

  • Peer pressure to not excel, or take risks.
  • Refusal to step into leadership roles, contribute ideas, or even make personal decisions.
  • “Brain off” performance mode, where they do what they’re told. Only what they’re told.
  • Denigrating other people’s performance to make themselves look good.

This came to mind because of a conversation I had with a guild member the other day, where she expressed her frustration with the lack of initiative among certain members of the raid force. She felt that many of her teammates preferred to be led, or even micro-managed in raids, rather than taking initiative to make some decisions, ask questions, or self-manage. She believes they’re less effective than they could be by taking more initiative. And I agree.

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth
-John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Now, this isn’t a big problem for us, because our guild delegates lots of jobs in raids, and rotates those jobs to various people, so there is an expectation of a certain amount of participation. We don’t have reserved raid jobs like Main Tank, Raid Leader, Loot Handler. These are done by various people, officer or not. It’s still noticeably a challenge to get members to step up and do even small roles, though. And I think the “middle of the pack” theory is largely why. It’s unconscious and habitual, but it’s something you’re going to encounter, particularly if you try to build an organization with a fairly flat hierarchy.

One who walks in another’s tracks leaves no footprints.
-Proverb

Making It Better, A Bit Deviously

So, how do you address the issue? I think we’ve made a good start in rotating jobs around, and giving members small opportunities to exhibit leadership. Praise and appreciation helps, of course. However, these are strategies to flatten the curve. In a relatively flat organization, you may hit the limits of that quite quickly. My other suggestion is that you focus on moving the curve. If I accept that many people want to be in the center of the pack, another strategy is to move the middle – move the bell curve itself.

The way this works in practice is to slowly, almost imperceptibly, increase performance and participation expectations. Over time, as you move the entire curve, the “middle of the pack” is now performing at a higher level.

There are a few management theorists out there that really nail it when it comes to identifying what employees care about. Since retention is a good thing, because turnover is expensive in several ways, leaders need to care what keeps employees happy and productive on the job. So do guild leaders. In the back of my mind, I see Mel Gibson with a smirk on his face and the cover of that movie “What Women Want”. Since I never actually saw it, and can’t give out our gender secrets (at least not easily!), I’ll stick to talking about business and guild leading and you can decide for yourself whether the theory translates over to other types of relationships.

The simplest model I’ve seen approaches the issue from a negative perspective, and illustrates three factors that create “Job Misery”. This is Patrick Lencioni’s model, taken from his book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Picture a triangle, representing Job Misery. Each side is made up of the following three factors:

Anonymity.

Nobody knows who I am. Nobody cares. Nobody says hello when I log in, or says goodnight when I leave. Nobody ever catches me doing anything right. Or wrong. They just don’t care about me. I’m just another generic <tank> <healer> <dps>.

Irrelevance.

I need to know that my efforts matter to someone. I don’t feel part of the team. Nobody thanks me for the work I do. Nobody notices my debuffing, healing, decursing, mob pickup, kiting, etc. I need to feel I’m contributing to the guild’s success. Would it matter to them if I never showed up?

Immeasurement.

I wish I knew how I was doing. I don’t want the Raid Leader’s opinion, I want to know for myself whether I’m doing the right stuff.

This word, coined by Lencioni, is about your ability to objectively judge and measure your own performance, and whether you are meeting the necessary standard. It’s about having a tangible indication of success or failure, that isn’t subject to another’s opinion, so that you can feel in control of your own situation. What your guild could do to enable this is to make sure you understand your role in the fight clearly; and provide objective tools such as WWS or other meters, while encouraging you to compare your performance to your previous ones.

So, what do we as leaders do to combat “Job Misery” on our raiding teams? Since we run a completely volunteer organizaton, failing to address the three factors above means our guilds fail. Some of the factors that contribute to combating one or more of Lencioni’s Three Factors include:

Some Things Members Do Want

Camadarie. Cheerful guild chat with low drama.

Being greeted as they log on.

Interesting forum participation with a personal touch. Perhaps a Real Life pics thread, screenshot of the week thread, or humor section.

Officers with some people skills. Friendly. Approachable.

Leaders who catch members doing something right – in public or in private tells.

Leaders who catch members doing something wrong – privately, respectfully, in tells.

An upbeat, low drama, respectful raid environment.

Raid strats discussed on the forums, with each person’s role clearly laid out.

Published WWS or similar performance logs.

Understanding of how to read performance logs effectively.

Hearing “thank you”. For buffs, for Fish Feasts, for showing up on time, for working hard. Sincerely.

The opportunity to have suggestions listened to.

Celebration of successes. Even incremental ones.

Guildmates and officers who remember there’s a person behind the toon.

Being noticed, appreciated and significant to the team.

What else does your guild do to combat “Job Misery”?

A wise wizard told me that there are only four critical things a guild leader has to get right:

Recruiting
Participation
Loot
Dismissal

I try to mentally keep my eye on that model when I ask myself how the guild is doing. It’s another of those models that applies very well to Real Life business management. Your fundamental systems have to be well thought out, in alignment with your values, clearly documented… and most importantly, followed.

Recruitment

I’m a big believer in recruiting for attitude, once you’ve established basic credentials. This means you need to take some extra time to get to know the applicant, and have them get to know you, but I believe it pays off in the long run. Of course, if you’re running an uber-Hardcore guild, there is no “long run” most of the time. Those guilds are often fairly unstable, with high turnover, because they can’t choose to take personality into account much. They have to focus on performance above all, if competitive progression is their reason for existing. I’m glad we don’t have to be that short-term about our recruiting, as some of our most productive and high-performance raiders didn’t start out that way.

What are the SWOTs (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) of your organization’s recruiting system?

Participation

We had challenges early on with making participation fair. We didn’t want our raiders ‘competing’ for raid spots, since fun is a value as important as progression in our guild. We don’t run a bench, every raider raids (although not every guild member is a raider). We needed a way to ensure that everyone got their fair share of face time. That ultimately became our unfortunately-named “RoT” system, or “Ready on Time” system. We track who signs up, who shows up on time, and who gets in raids. Then we use an excel spreadsheet to analyze this data and show us whose turn it is to sit in backup. It’s transparent, public, and applied equitably to everyone from raid leaders down to the newest recruit.

This system has almost completely eliminated any drama over whose turn it is to get in raids. It’s also delivered side benefits in allowing us to easily track attendance patterns, and see what classes/roles we should be recruiting. We no longer have to guess at our recruiting needs. We can see changes in a raider’s attendance patterns, and an officer can follow up on that to find out if it’s temporary or permanent. If a raider’s attendance drops below our acceptable minimum, we can see it at a glance and address it. Most importantly, the system is public and objective, and everyone knows what’s expected of them. That leads to our next topic, loot.

Loot – the Reward System

Our guild runs on a “pay for participation” system, commonly known as DKP, or Dragon Kill Points. If you show up available to raid, whether you are in the raid or in backup, you earn points which can be used to “buy” items in game. It’s similar to a company that pays by the hour, although in this case everyone earns the same amount hourly. From our perspective, it’s public and objective, and that’s what matters most to us.

Some guilds use a Loot Council system, which is more dynamic and in some ways more efficient. That concept revolves around having a group (often officers) decide who needs an item most. What you give up for that efficiency is objectivity. Loot Council systems tend to attract drama at times, even in very mature guilds, but when progression > all other values, it can be the right system.

The main point is that your system, whatever it is, has to be clearly documented. Members need to know what they’re agreeing to as a reward system, before they join. Questions need to be addressed promptly and clearly. Definitely, no smoke and mirrors. Whatever is promised has to be what’s really delivered.

Retention/Dismissal

The final Key to a successful guild is to have a plan or system for dismissal. I consider retention the flip side of dismissal, and tend to spend more time thinking about retention, but both have to be considered by any guild leader. Retention is mostly about fair systems, clear expectations, good communications and good listening. More on that another day.

Dismissal, or any kind of turnover, needs a defined process. The way we handle it is to make sure that all officers know that while they can guild remove a member in an extreme case, the member in question should be told it’s a temporary situation while the officers discuss it. Nobody, even the guild leader, removes a member permanently without discussion. If a member is removed, or leaves on their own, we make sure we find out why, and keep notes in the officer forums so that we can track trends, and also so that we have them for reference if the person wishes to return at a later date. Any organization that has no form of exit interview when people leave, is giving up valuable information that can help them become more successful.

After over 20 years as a corporate trainer, I remain amused by the common perception that anyone can (effectively) give instructions or teach. It particularly surprises me that we are generally so ignorant of the importance of this skill, since we all need to do it, frequently, in small ways or large. It’s one of the key reasons many managers don’t delegate well. “It’s easier to do it themselves” because they lack skill in this specific area of communication. Many Wow Guild and corporate errors or miscommunications (or even accidents), are caused simply by people not knowing what’s expected of them. That’s also one of the most frequent complaints from employees about their managers, and a significant cause of job dissatisfaction. Your employees and your guild members want to feel they know what’s expected of them.

Who Will Teach the Teachers?

I remember having a conversation with a few bewildered T.A.s (Teaching Assistants) at a university faculty party once. I asked them what was done to prepare them for teaching, as they were actively doing the lectures for most of the classes they T.A.’d. That’s right, the Profs frequently don’t bother coming to class. Anyhow, their universal answer was “They make sure we know our stuff”. I reworded my question a few times, but I was speaking about a reality these otherwise-intelligent people couldn’t perceive. They kept giving me the same answer, unable to conceive that the fact that they knew the content didn’t automatically enable them to transmit that knowledge to someone else.

They honestly didn’t know that there was any specific skill or technique to teaching someone something, beyond knowing the content. You see the same belief frequently in parents who decide to teach their children (or spouses!) to drive. And usually the same abysmal level of success.

A Major Reason Raid Leaders (and Raiders) Get Frustrated

So I recognize the situation when I see it in World of Warcraft. Many boss fights are complex, and in some cases there are very specific actions each class/role has to take. One of the things my guild does well is that we don’t have only one raid leader. We have one who is arguably the best at on-the-fly strategy tweaking for progression fights. We have another who I would choose hands-down to lead any farmed content – he keeps things upbeat, moving quickly, and efficient. We have one that is brilliant at troubleshooting individual performance issues, and dealing with them in a calm and respectful manner. I consider myself best at complex fights where people are having trouble with the choreography. A fight like Kael was perfect for me to Raid Lead. Of course, we don’t always use the “right” raid leader at the right time, but a balanced variety helps.

Different People Learn In Different Ways

Due to my professional training background, I simply have more tools at my disposal for understanding why people are challenged by learning certain things, and how to address it. I consciously attempt to help the visual learners with diagrams, breaking out Visio when necessary. I know the kinesthetic learners need to learn one piece at a time, hands-on. I’m ok with the fact that the auditory learners need a verbal explanation, even if it’s all written down for them on the forums. I know that even if I explain the fight clearly in vent (for the auditories), I need to type key points for the visuals. I know that NO amount of explanation is as good as “Let’s pull this so you can get a feel for it”, for the kinesthetics.

I’m considered patient, but that’s mostly just understanding that different people learn in different ways, and at different paces. And, of course, having “Push to Talk” on my microphone so nobody hears the occasional ranting and cursing. 😉

“‘I think I should understand that better,’ Alice said very politely, ‘If I had it written down: but I’m afraid I can’t quite follow it as you say it.'”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Let’s Have a Four Minute Lesson in Giving Better Instructions

Now, there’s more to it than that, of course. I taught the prep course for Microsoft Train the Trainer Certification for three years, and it was a two day course, even though most participants had several years of training experience. However, a few basics and a little thought about the process of giving instruction could help your raids be much more enjoyable, and your progression smoother. Here’s a very short, simple and useful lesson in giving better instructions:

 

About Author

Atris, known in another world as Karilee, is a World of Warcraft Guild Leader and Business Consultant fascinated by how Leadership, Management and Teambuilding work in two different worlds. She believes that good leaders, good managers and good teams are essential for successfully defeating dragons, no matter what world you find yourself in.