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Guild Guide: Pushing and pulling with leadership

There's a time to stand firm and a time to be flexible; how do you tell the difference between the two?

Being in charge of a guild means that you are forever managing a dance between making decisions and having decisions made for you.

Whenever you're in charge of a group, there are members of that group who are going to tell you that your decisions are wrong. Sometimes, they're completely right. Sometimes they're completely wrong. Some people are repeatedly wrong, and no matter how many pieces of evidence prove them wrong, they'll just keep demanding things on the same wrong premises on a regular basis until the stars go cold and dark. And sometimes that's just based on the fact that someone wants something that they can't have.

The struggle for leaders, of course, is that the wrong players want to have just as much of a voice in how the guild is run. And everyone needs to feel as if they're being heard. Hence the push and pull of leadership, the delicate dance between letting others have what they want when you disagree with it versus standing firm on your beliefs. It is, as implied, pretty complicated.

The hope, when you make a decision, is that everyone will agree with your decision. You can probably file that hope the same place you file the knowledge that the goal in a baseball game is to hit every pitch while not letting the opposing team hit any. It's certainly what you want, but it hasn't got the slightest chance of happening.

Realistically, when you make a decision, your goal cannot be complete consensus. Your goal can be to have reasonable equilibrium, however. While you can't have everyone agree with you, the people who don't agree with you can walk away from the discussion feeling as if their views were heard and considered and they had a fair chance to influence the decisions that were being made.

As such, one of the first things you have to be willing to do when dealing with a complex guild issue is acknowledge the possibility that you might be wrong. People who are upset might be right to be upset, and complaints could be entirely valid. It's leadership 101, as it were, and it's important to make sure that people are aware your mind can be changed and you are, in fact, flexible.

"But how do I know the right times to back down?" you ask. "The rest of the guild thinks I'm wrong, but this is a big and important issue." To which I offer you this point: they're all big and important issues. Every single one of them. If guild leadership and its decisions are involved, then the issue is big and important.

I've seen far too many leaders get bogged down in the idea that it's all right to let the little issues slide, but the big issues have to be fought, and the big issues are what the leaders are there to make the calls on. This is understandable thinking, which is also completely wrong. No one feels like they have a voice if the only times their voice matters are the times that it's not relevant.

If that's too cryptic, consider the following: if you were only listened to on the minor issues, would you feel like you had a voice, or would you feel as if you were being humored on token cases and ignored the rest of the time?

More often, I find that it's important to take a look at the people who are espousing what viewpoint. I was in a guild at one point, wherein several of the members were saying "yeah, the officers here are unpleasant to deal with and very cliquish," with the officer response coming down to "no we're not." Aside from the obvious communication issues there, a more reasonable response would be to at least humor the idea, since the only people saying "there's no clique" were the people who would, by definition, be inside the clique.

If you're willing to stop listening to people at a certain magnitude, you're not doing the push and pull correctly. You're still assuming that you're right, that everyone else needs to be humored. And again -- it's best to start from the assumption that you could be wrong.

Thus far, I've talked a lot about pitfalls. How do you actually make it work? The key is to make sure that both officers and members are tugging, not pulling against one another.

When you have to make a leadership decision, listen with all sides. Talk with the guild as a whole. If it's a boolean issue (i.e. does your guild align with Faction A or Faction B), you'll need to make an absolute decision; otherwise, you want to provide the best compromise you can for everyone. And even in boolean situations, you should remember the people who disagreed with your assessment and listen more carefully to the other things they want.

If most of the guild wants to go with Faction A but you want to go with Faction B, but there's no real gameplay benefit either way, Faction A is the way to go. But you can make the decision that Faction B is what you're doing -- except that you'll want to talk it through with others. Explain your decision and your reasoning, why it means a great deal to you, and perhaps most importantly what you're going to do to smooth over any hurt feelings with the people who disagreed with you.

And the next time the disagreement rises up, remember that you did get to make the decision last time, and recognize that the other guild members might still be smarting. Give their arguments a little extra weight. Yes, maybe this time you're still convinced that you're right... but you got to be the lone arbiter before and went against the majority opinion, fair is fair. This time, it's time to cede to public opinion and let someone else make the call, even if you disagree with it.

From all of this, it might sound like your role is mostly that of a tiebreaker or making the final decision when it's too close to call, maybe nudging things slightly. Which is an accurate description of being an officer most of the time. You should not be the person in charge and handing out edicts; you should be the one gently pushing in one direction or another, balancing out a complicated series of issues and providing a reasonable voice.

The best leadership is leadership that lets the guild decide what it wants for itself with only the smallest influence. When there's no clear push in any direction, you have every right and reason to be the deciding factor, but when you have the option to step away and let people talk amongst themselves, you should take it.

It can be difficult to do, especially when you are absolutely certain that everyone else is wrong and you're right. But if being certain you're right is any indicator of rightness, no one would ever be wrong. You owe it to yourself and your fellow members to show humility and be capable of being wrong, of letting other people affect the decisions. Otherwise you're going to end up in a power struggle, and those never end well for guilds.

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