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The Importance of Good Management

April 5, 2013

Dear Reader,

Hello again!  I hope you enjoyed my series of PAX East posts written by my wife and friends.  Today, though, we’re going back to the more traditional correspondence, wherein we discuss prevalent issues in gaming.

The importance of the message in today’s post can’t be overstated.  I suspect that anyone who’s ever been part of any kind of organization – club, guild, job, classroom, team, RPG group – understands how important good management is, but I really wanted to take a moment today to look at what good management is (and where you can read more about it), how things go wrong when good management fails, and how to potentially deal with poor management.

This topic comes up now because of several concurrent events in my life.  First, I haven’t logged on to WoW in a while (though I have to admit that today for the first time in about three weeks I was about to, but decided to try out a new game instead).  I truly attribute that to management issues in my previous guilds.  Even now, with the promise of a good guild at hand (again), I am having an extremely difficult time motivating myself to level another character on the chance that things work out.  If I’d had better previous guild experiences, I don’t think it would be an issue, but every guild I’ve left I did so due to bad management – not other players.  Secondly, my wife’s decided to quit her roller derby team because of the way she’s been treated (I won’t go into much more detail than that, but everything said here definitely addresses problems there), and I’ve been really working in LoL to figure out how to develop a sense of unity in the extremely transient groups that form there.  Each of these situations have gotten me thinking about management.

Good management is the art of inspiring people to do their best in whatever area they’re working.  Whether it’s working together as a team while healing, dpsing, or tanking, or whether it’s getting each part of a program completed and working with all the other parts by a particular deadline, managers have to find ways to motivate their employees to achieve their best.  While whole books can be (and have been) written on the art of managing, the actual skills it requires are relatively few.  Unfortunately, like precious stones, these few skills are rarely found in a single individual.

I’d say you can boil down good management into five basic qualities.  These basic qualities cover many sub-qualities and combine to form other qualities, but if you have these five basic characteristics, managing should come easily to you.  These are in no particular order.

The first important quality is understanding.  This one quality has broad use; managers need to understand their employees as well as the content of their managerial project (whatever they’re getting their “team” to do).  Understanding the employees means that a manager can make an informed decision about how to react to requests that come up as well as knowing how best to motivate individuals on their team.  Understanding the content means having at least a basic understanding of each employee’s job so that they can – at a bare minimum – have an intelligent conversation about problems that come up and perhaps help the employee work out how to solve them.  Understanding also means having a sense of fairness; if you truly understand situations from multiple viewpoints, it’s far easier to come to fair judgments when situations require you too.  Too many managers make snap decisions on partial information, which causes their team to lose confidence or faith in them.  This is precisely what happened with my wife.

Being a good manager also requires having standards and holding people to them.  If you’re too lackadaisical and forgiving, people will inevitably begin to push at the boundaries to see what they can get away with.  Knowing what your standards are and communicating them to your team is key to helping your team understand what goals are set and what boundaries exist.  Without either of those two aspects – goals and boundaries – a manager’s going to have a hard time getting their project complete.  The goals show your team what to be aiming for.  These can be strategies to use or percentages of projects to complete by certain deadlines.  The boundaries explain what minimally accepted behaviors are and define lines that should not be crossed.

In order to communicate standards and understandings, a manager must have good communication skills.  Knowing how to talk to people in a calm, intelligent way means that you’ll have less misunderstandings and, thus, fewer staff-caused setbacks.  Additionally, good communication skills means good listening; being able to hear your team when they bring you issues can make the difference between heading off problems and being smacked in the face by them.  If all you’re doing is waiting for your turn to talk, then your team’s going to lose confidence in you.

Charisma doesn’t hurt, either.  Being able to be friendly and smile convincingly (or sound like you’re smiling over a voice program) really helps projects run smoothly.  I cannot overemphasize this aspect in particular, as often it’s this where teachers begin to fail.  All the knowledge and communication in the world can’t turn a bad situation into a good one if you can’t smile first.  Being a little disarming makes it much harder for problematic people to keep pushing their point, and it makes people more likely to want to work with you.  To be honest, this was one of my biggest failings as a raid leader.  I can smile and charm my students all day long, but when my raid team failed over and over, I just couldn’t keep the irritation out of my voice, and it demoralized my team.

Lastly, a healthy dose of humility helps.  Humility can be in the form of patience – understanding that everyone takes some extra time sometimes – or a fair sense of self-deprecation – knowing that everyone screws up sometimes.  Admitting when you’ve made a mistake or being empathetic when someone’s having a hard time adjusting can really encourage people on your team to adapt, forgive themselves, and refocus to do better.  Acting as if you’re the best all the time doesn’t instill anyone with anything other than a healthy dose of skepticism in your leadership.

For more reading on this subject, I’d recommend several books.  From a more business-like perspective, I’d recommend How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Yes, that book is still valid after nearly 100 years in print.  I’d also recommend The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  That book gives a lot of practical strategies for management.  Lastly, from a more motivational stand point, I’d recommend Made to Stick, which details how to make ideas that resonate with people.  For more gameplay-oriented reading, I’d suggest either of Ferrel’s excellent books, The Raid Leader’s Companion or The Guild Leader’s Companion.

On Monday, we’ll look at how management fails and how to potentially deal with those failures.  Being a manager in incredibly hard, but being under one who’s clearly destroying the team can be even harder, as many of us have unfortunately experienced.


Stubborn (and a classroom manager)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 5, 2013 8:49 am

    I’ll not go into a treatise, as I generally agree with your points, but I think you missed the most two important aspect of management: self awareness and transparency. Know your strengths and play to them. I’m not an outgoing extrovert so I do not glad-hand my teams but I have developed equally effective ways to interact and lead. You also need to let people know what is happening in the organization. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt will kill a team faster than anything else and an opaque organization is a fertile breeding ground. You don’t need to tell everyone everything but your policies, goals, and methods should be out in the open.

    I’d also add effective delegation as a key skill. You should be able to manage a small group by yourself but get large enough and it isn’t likely to work. Even in WoW if you are dealing with the raid team(s), rated BG team(s), challenge mode team(s), recruiting, retention, craft and resource management, etc it can become too much to handle. You have to learn how to delegate and how to manage that construct. It’s critical to remember that your delegated leaders will have the most stressful job in your guild. You need to be able to support them and learn when it’s becoming a problem.

    • April 5, 2013 9:28 pm

      I completely agree with all three of those points. In fact, I’ll probably include them at the beginning of Monday’s post, if you don’t mind. I think that my categories cover them in one form or another, but they’re important enough to warrant having been mentioned in the descriptions. I think that self-awareness and delegation are both “understanding skills,” the understanding of oneself and who on your team is trusted and skilled enough to take on delegated tasks. Transparency is an interesting one, but I think that it’s a meld of communication and standards in that it combines telling your team what’s happening as well as how those things interact with your expectations.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. April 6, 2013 2:46 am

    Not sure if you remember this study that Google did a few years ago, but it was quite interesting:

    In particular…

    “For much of its 13-year history, particularly the early years, Google has taken a pretty simple approach to management: Leave people alone. Let the engineers do their stuff. If they become stuck, they’ll ask their bosses, whose deep technical expertise propelled them into management in the first place.

    But Mr. Bock’s group found that technical expertise — the ability, say, to write computer code in your sleep — ranked dead last among Google’s big eight. What employees valued most were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, not dictating answers, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.

    “In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” Mr. Bock says. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison. Much more important is just making that connection and being accessible.””

    Very much seemed in line with your Understanding section that involved the idea of the “bare minimum” – not the need for the boss to understand everything as well or better than the employee.

    Also, if you’re interested in a new game, you should check out this post:

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