DJ and I play Destiny. I’ve never met DJ, but each week he and I and a dozen or so other regulars are sitting on our respective couches, chairs, and bean bags tackling the various parts of this gorgeous first person shooter.
You can play much of Destiny by yourself. There are daily missions on various planets where you can find and kill the bad guy and then collect the loot. There are daily strikes where you are paired with two random strangers to run a slightly harder mission where there is no need for formal communication, just the collective fire power of three players versus one player.
Finally, there are raids. These are complex and longer missions requiring multiple people who are actively communicating and coordinating. This means someone – however subtly – needs to lead the group. In my ideal raid, DJ is the leader.
While this piece is going to talk a lot about Destiny, it’s really about leadership. See, in the many hours of listening to DJ walk the group through Venus’s Vault of Glass or the Crota’s End on the Moon, I’ve learned the power that comes with DJ’s leadership style – he’s unfailingly kind.
Regarding Colorful Personalities and Opinions
If you’ve ever read YouTube comments, you know that public spaces on the Internet attract humanity’s most colorful personalities and opinions. While I completely respect your right to have an opinion, I am not interested in your colorful agenda during my precious downtime. I’ve chosen Destiny because I need an escape. I need a gorgeous puzzle to solve that involves as little of my daily routine as possible. Often those puzzles require other humans.
Having played many multi-player games before Destiny, I’m aware that joining a group of strangers from the Internet can be problematic. There is the Never_Stop_Talking player who sees this particular raid as an opportunity to talk about… anything… forever. There is the I_Know_Everything player who is immediately verbally frustrated when the group’s level of experience is lower than theirs. One of the reasons I wrote this first piece regarding Destiny was to find a collection of somewhat likeminded players with roughly the same experience. 1
The experiment was successful and at any given time there are 20 to 30 players on my friend’s list. From this list, it’s minimal work to cobble together a group to tackle any part of Destiny. Even within this like-minded group, there is still diversity. There are still competing agendas, and differing experiences, and that bring us back to DJ.
To understand the difficulties of DJ’s job, you need to understand a bit about raid mechanics. If you start to glaze over when you read the phrase “raid mechanics”, please stick with me, I will explain how you can be a better leader.
To successfully raid, you first need multiple, competent, willing humans. Raids often involve more powerful enemies (or “bosses”) who need to be conquered in a specific fashion to gain access to raid-exclusive loot. For example, for an encounter in Destiny, the boss must first be hit with massive damage by multiple players at precisely the same time just so another player who is carrying a sword (acquired from another baddie who also must be killed with a coordinated attack, as well) can inflict damage on the boss. Failure to perform this sequence in this precise order results in the quick death of your entire party. It’s called a wipe. Oh yeah, you need to perform this entire sword killing maneuver multiple times to actually kill this boss.
It’s fun. I swear. And there’s more.
Six strangers speaking via headset need to show up at the same time of day and organically anoint a leader whose job it is to quickly determine the relative experience of each stranger, ascertain who needs to know what about the mechanics of this particular raid, and then need to clearly explain these mechanics. Once the encounter has begun, the raid leader needs to make strategy adjustments in real time based on the performance of the team.
These humans show up late. These humans have a variety of experience with first person shooters and with Destiny. Even the most experienced human’s screw-up during a raid. These humans have real lives and often need to vanish at a moment’s notice. However, these humans are collectively motivated to learn and progress through the game because it gives them joy.
Having run dozens of raid, DJ has four consistent leadership behaviors:
- He clearly explains the situation. As many times as possible. Calmly.
- He has an insightful answer ready to any question. He’s done his research to become an expert in his field.
- Once the raid has begun, he monitors the situation, provides real-time feedback, and updates to the other players in a helpful and educational manner.
- In the face of disaster, he never loses composure.
Clear communications, demonstrated expertise, clear and actionable feedback, and remaining even-keeled. I’m describing a set of solid leadership traits here, but I’m not even to the important part, yet. See, I’ve seen all these behaviors before in a great many humans. What makes DJ unique are two things: he’s always this leader. I’ve come to expect precisely this behavior out of DJ each time we’ve played – like clockwork. I aspire to be a good leader, but I have bad days. I slept poorly. I sat in that one meeting where nothing but uselessness was contemplated for an hour, and I lose my faith in humanity.
DJ is always this leader. DJ communicates clearly and competently. Need to leave a raid after we’ve been at it unsuccessfully for two hours to be with your family? DJ says, “No worries, we’ll find someone else…” Having repeated difficulty fulfilling your role in this part of the raid which is resulting in multiple wipes? “No worries, let’s try a slightly different strategy, ok?” Never played this raid before? Didn’t mention this before the raid began? “No worries, let me walk you through how this works…” Want to practice a part of the raid that will result in additional wipes? “No worries, here’s how it works…”
I’ve played a lot of video games with a lot of humans. I’ve lead and been lead by a lot of different people and personalities, but never have I seen the clear results of being unfailingly kind. Following DJ’s lead, we communicate better, we learn from each other, we celebrate our successes, and we laugh heartily about our failures.
Leadership in volunteer organizations is perhaps the best way to think about leading a raid. You have a set of humans hopefully dedicated to a common goal, and they are donating their time in supporting this goal. Most volunteer organizations have a far more noble mission than the acquisition of epic loot, but the theory is that when you have a volunteer workforce of people donating their time out of the kindness of their heart, you need a different leadership approach.
I believe two things. First, an unfailingly kind leadership protocol seems like a solid approach for a volunteer organization. You don’t hire your team, and they likely come from diverse backgrounds, so your ability to explain and guide is key. Your ability to convey credibility and be the expert as quickly as possible is paramount because volunteers leave… randomly. This makes the final trait essential: in the face of disaster, you remain the calm and focused leader. Disaster is a strong word, but in a world where volunteers are doing work they are choosing to do rather than work they must do, unexpected situations are the norm.
Second, why isn’t being unfailingly kind the best approach for every leadership situation?
You’re going to leap to a leader you know who has been wildly successful being the exact opposite of kind. They are dictators, they are micro-managers, they are yelling, driving, huge personalities. You heard the story about the leader who asked an employee what they worked on, didn’t like the answer, and so they fired the employee on the spot. It’s a great story, but it’s not great leadership.
Leadership is an outfit you choose for others to see and I choose unfailingly kind.