Management No worries

Be Unfailingly Kind

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.

The Wanderer – Destiny

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.

Raid Mechanics

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.

No Worries

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.

Regarding Jerks

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.


  1. Yes! I’m still playing. Yes! I’d like to play with you. Join the Destiny Slack by dropping me a note.

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12 Responses

  1. Paul Leclerc 1 year ago

    It would be interesting to have you interview him IRL and ask him how he leads like this *on a consistent basis*. We all have bad days where we mess up as leaders yet he seems to remain outwardly positive and kind. Was he born this way or did he consciously make choices to become that kind of person?

    Have you worked with anyone in the tech field who displayed this kind of leadership? DJ’s passion for the “game” might be a major reason for his success. I wonder if that isn’t the beginning step towards this kind of leadership? You have to be absolutely passionate about the thing foremost. If you’re even slightly meh about the thing, it would be hard(er) to be a consistently kind person. Or be the Dalai Lama?

  2. Hi Rands,

    Well, taking you up on that offer so I’ve sent you a friend request (PSN: BJJfrog).

    I’m in Australia, running a small team of IT guys. Destiny is awesome, right? Despite some of Bungie’s mess ups.

    – JK

  3. Shane 1 year ago

    You know, now that I’m a parent it occurs that a lot of leadership traits are similar between the workplace and the household. Keeping it together in the face of unexpected delays/emergencies, respecting people in your team (family) and setting boundaries to ensure the team (family) know where you’re all headed. It’s a tough gig, but the time is going to pass anyhow so you may as well do something interesting with it 🙂

  4. I love it when you write about Destiny. I’ve been hooked on the game since even with my limited time to play it. I’m on Xbox One with a small group of friends and Jackly is our DJ.

    He’s our leader and sword bearer. He keeps us together and will always Sherpa other players through Raids or invite them into the Iron Banner to run with us.

    The same is what you make of it. And when you find that group of people you wake up in the morning to sneak in a Nightfall before work, and have weekly play times setup with whoever shows up. It’s the favorite part of my week.

    I’ve heard from so many people who are lonely trying to find people there. I’d suggest you check out http://The100.io
    It’s a way to find people trying to run Nightfalls or Raids and many other activities. You can post a game and people can join you. I’ve made many friends from there after randomly being thrown together in a raid.

    John Siracusa recently said on a podcast, Destiny is not a game, it’s a lifestyle. And I think he’s right. And it’s one where I’ve found many hours of joy and laughter.

  5. Miles Archer 1 year ago

    I like this in theory and in this circumstance. However, in the work world, I am trying to reconcile this with getting someone to who is under-performing to step up. You can be kind, up to a point. Sometimes you need to be direct in a calm, professional manner.

  6. Mark 1 year ago

    This is a phenomenal article on leadership. Thank you for sharing your thoughts – I will bookmark this post and refer to it often moving forward from here.

  7. Joe T. 1 year ago

    “I am trying to reconcile this with getting someone to who is under-performing to step up. You can be kind, up to a point. Sometimes you need to be direct in a calm, professional manner.”

    I think there’s a difference between being kind and being wishy-washy. From what I’m reading, DJ always has a goal (complete this raid with this group, train this player, make this guy not feel like a heel for leaving suddenly because his kid just puked all over the floor) and he’s always moving toward that goal with the added challenge of doing it without being a dick. What would DJ do when presented with a straight-up griefer? I imagine he would act, without malice or meanness, but effectively, to protect the experience of the people who are truly into it. In the same way, kindness in managing employees may lie in getting somebody to recognize that their time is best spent doing not-what-they’ve-been-doing (see the example in a previous Rands article I forget where he said this very thing).

  8. I really like this. I’m just getting in to Destiny and this is the sort of experience I want to have from it. Interesting insight on the sort of behaviors and attitude that can make it hope .

  9. I agree wholeheartedly. The recent documentary about Shep Gordon (Alice Cooper’s manager) illustrates this. In the documentary, Shep says something along the lines of, “I believe you can do great business and be nice at the same time”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shep_Gordon)