11 Reasons Guildmasters Fail


Guy Kawasaki tweeted a link to an article that caught my eye. It was a psychology blog called PsyBlog. Long time readers know that after WoW and tech blogs, I frequently read psychology, blogging and personal development blogs.

So what exactly did I read? 7 Reasons Leaders Fail is the original post.

Already you can see where I’m going with this. I noticed characteristics highlighted in the article that were exhibited by leaders I had in the past. So in this post, I want to apply some of the reasons listed on PsyBlog to WoW leaders and add a few more of my own.

Strict Hierarchies

This is the first reason listed in the PsyBlog post. Here’s a typical hierarchy of a raiding guild:

  1. Executive (GM)
  2. Advisors (Officers)
  3. Raiders
  4. Everyone else (Socials)

Some of my former GMs in the past were stubborn and not open to using methods that would make life easier for them and the raid. Often times, the raid would “play dumb” and did what the boss said (which includes me). We assumed he knew best when it wasn’t always the case. He set up the pulls, assigned the healers, organized positioning and did everything else himself.

A present Warlock in my guild alerted me today that he could tack on Detect Invisibility on several players to help spot for those pesky black shades that seemingly appear out of nowhere in Naxxramas.

Poor Decision-Making

This is number 2 on the PsyBlog. Let the experienced veterans make some calls. Some people aren’t cut out to make certain decisions. I should never be allowed to setup pulls or mark targets (as Hassai so kindly reminds me). I should leave that to the tanks. I should not be setting up crowd control targets. I Should not be the one calling out Battle Res targets. There are other players in better positions who can make effective calls quicker than I.

Let your best people do the jobs they are suited for. Focus on your individual strength. My strength relies on healer organization and assignments.

Something I pride myself in is the ability to ask questions. If I’m unsure about a mob pull or an item, I’ll ask the experts. I expect them to give me precise information so that I can make the right call.

Impossible Standards for Leaders

Here’s a good one. The reason says it all. Leaders are expected to know every little thing.

We don’t.

We’re only human. It is so true it is scary how accurate this statement is. I’m expected to know optimal Mage DPS rotations, tanking orders, MD targets, gear choices and so forth. I’m not exactly a walking WoW Wiki. A few of the qualities leaders are expected to posses, according to PsyBlog, are integrity, persistence, humility, competence, decisiveness, and ability to inspire.

So where do I stack up?

Here’s my self evaluation out of 5 (with 5 being the most and 1 being the least).

  • Integrity: 5
  • Persistence: 3
  • Humility: 5
  • Competence: 3
  • Decisiveness: 4
  • Ability to inspire: 2

(Note: Guildies may comment without fear of reprisal)

Treating People Like Crap

It’s a simple concept. If you treat people like crap, you can expect crap performance. I don’t like to yell but I can and will speak firmly at times in order to crack the whip. In this case, my guild is also my boss. If they don’t like me or my performance, nothing is going to stop them from departing. I don’t want them to leave. I want to foster a friendly yet professional environment. But I can’t afford to be too friendly as you’ll find out later on.

Psychology of Followship

This is another intriguing point from the PsyBlog. What makes people follow someone else? I think it’s important for GMs to ask themselves why these people are following them and why they trust them. GMs are obviously doing something right. If they weren’t, then members would be sporting a different tag. This is especially true in WoW where leaving and joining guilds can be done in mere seconds.

Like people who think alike will generally do similar things. I want to kill Arthas. I want to do it on these days. I want to take this approach. I have over 20 members who have a similar stance. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be here.

Lack of a Presence

Leaders need to show themselves. They need to be visible. When BC came out, my GM was hardly ever around. I thought he didn’t care about the game. He didn’t have any plans for Karazhan. In my next guild, on the day we were working on Gruul, my GM wasn’t in the raid. He was out farming on Elemental Plateau instead of being with us killing Gruul. We had to pug a player for his spot.

What am I doing following someone who doesn’t seem to care about this game as much as I do? Is this someone I really want to follow?

No Confrontation

If you have a player who is performing poorly or is behaving poorly, they need to be spoken to and the situation needs to be resolved. I’ve had leaders in the past who did not have the spine to call their bluff. I think a GM needs to be prepared to remove anyone from their organization if the situation ever demands it. Be prepared to sit a player out. There will be times when the success of a raid rides on a single player’s performance. If they can’t hack it, they need to be told to sit for the night in favor of someone else.

If the guild I’m in ends up wiping to a single boss for 15 straight tries and the rest of the guild feel that it’s the result of one person, then something’s got to change. Maybe they’re disconnecting like crazy or having computer issues. Whatever the reason, it has to be fixed. The raid must go on. As much it sucks for me having to make the call, I have to be prepared to do it. Even if its me.


In a recent post I wrote about Deciding Between Normal Raids and Heroic Raids, AltoholicsAreUs wrote:

The only thing you MIGHT have to watch out for now, is “cliques”, meaning groups of people who plow through the ten mans to farm or obtain gear, but do not allow newer or outside members of your guild to participate.

I’m not the best baby sitter in the world. I got kicked in the groin once by my little “buddy” in grade school. Cliques are going to crop up no matter what and there’s very little that can be done to put a stop to it. You could try, but the clique could react in a bad way. The GM and officers need to be intimately aware of the guildies around them and attempt to include them in guild wide activities such as Lake Wintergrasp. Check in with players from time to time to see how they’re doing.

No Enthusiasm

A GM needs to have a level of energy and passion for something like this. No matter what you do in life, be passionate about your interests. If you’re not, then you’re not doing what you like. Seth Godin’s a great speaker because he’s passionate about what he does. Garr Reynolds is a greater presenter because he excels at speaking and presentation delivery. A great Starbucks barista separates herself from the rest by adding the little swirly thing to my venti sized iced double chocolate chip mocha frappucino!

They all love what they’re doing. I love what I’m doing. I don’t have to be skilled at hockey to be passionate about the game. Are your GMs passionate about what they’re doing? Are you?

One of my new recruits appeared to be delighted when he found out I wrote a WoW blog and contribute to WoW Insider because it demonstrates that I like what I’m doing.

Empathy and the Lackthereof

Some GM’s I’ve had were self centered and self absorbed. They weren’t capable of putting themselves in the shoes of others or just plain didn’t care. Now I may never be able to wear the shoes of Brio or Hassai when it comes to tanking business. I do try to make a concerted effort to listen to them and see where they’re coming from if they feel the need to say anything. Don’t ignore your guys and don’t brush them aside.

General Ineptitude

Some people just should not be trusted with leadership. It’s sad to say, I know. Not everyone is capable of being a Michael Jordan or a Tiger Woods. Not everyone is meant to lead. Whatever the reason is, bad leaders will eventually lead to a fractured organization that will have no future as a worst case scenario. Maybe they don’t have the social skills or the time. Perhaps they can’t take the disciplinary actions required to do something. If a guild loses faith in its leader and no longer has confidence, something needs to change before it deteriorates further.

Where does this leave us?

I can’t just talk the talk. I have to walk the walk. If I can’t back up my words or beliefs, then I am no better than some of the GM’s I’ve had in the past. But by being aware of what makes bad leadership, I can consciously make an effort to steer myself away from the behavior that made them that way.

I’m in a unique position since I have several bloggers in my guild who aren’t afraid to call me out and keep my honest. It’s in my best interest to not suck and to do the right thing. I can’t just hold myself accountable to my guild. I also need to hold myself accountable to my readers.

Here’s a challenge for the WoW bloggers and readers out there.

What makes your GM great?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Whether it’s stories about bad experiences or good experiences, others including myself would surely benefit.

27 thoughts on “11 Reasons Guildmasters Fail”

  1. Matt, you’re doing great. As I’ve said about 5000 times, you make a great boss.

    Unfortunately, I doubt that many people will take you up on your challenge to praise their GMs. This is my observation from the working world: very few people like their immediate boss, no matter how great he or she is. This is human nature. How do we react when we see a cop car on the highway? We slow down and are sort of bummed that the police car is ruining our otherwise pleasant drive. In the academic world, everyone’s always on the run from their department chair or section coordinator. We know all the routes through the building that don’t take us by these people’s doors.

    In WoW, the GM of a guild is in a tough spot, because you’re there to enjoy the game you love, but you also have to make some hard decisions. Let me just register my relief that it’s not me making those calls.

  2. We don’t have a strong pyramid guild structure. We have the following hierarchy:
    – Officer team, with a GM as head of the team
    – Rest
    We have more than 2 ranks in our guild but these are merely for administration purposes.

    The GM automatically takes the role of main spokes person and default target of practical jokes. We had him dressed as bunny on the guild’s paintball meeting. Too bad for him, but excellent for team building. Admitted… he wears the title and bunny suit well (don’t tell him though..).

    You could summarize our guild as ‘social’. There is an officer team, whose main concern is administration, organisation and picking up the essential leading roles where needed. All officers are RL friends and RL meetings aren’t rare amongst the officers. This really helps open conversation and sharing concerns amongst the team.

    We have various groups of RL friends in our guild. While we noted that RL groups tend to stick together, this faded over time (especially since our guild’s RL meeting) and we have a strong social interaction. This promotes an open and social policy. The maturity level is high and we find players often making curteous arrangements amongst them to maximize the gain (and fun) out of their team efforts. We reward our players for such excellent behavior with a ‘few rules’-policy. Rather than writing a 100 rules to counter abuse, we give ideological guidelines and the officers step in where needed. This worked out very well so far!

  3. Fio (Yes, I still can’t spell my Guild Master’s name) is the best guild master I’ve ever had. In BC I jumped around to a LOT of guilds, mostly because ignorance surrounding the demonology spec influenced many to say “bring out your imp, noob”. Fio, the guild master for Aetherial Circle or Drenden, started the guild because he loved his boomkin. He wanted a place to raid the way he wanted, so he created one. In AC, every class and spec gets a raid spot as long as they can pull their weight (If I could beat out hunters on a smite-spec priest, they’d let me come along), he’s understanding of his raider’s concerns and most importantly makes sure we’re having fun even on the most frustrating of wipe nights (beware of puns though). He hosts many people with the same enthusiasm about WoW that he has, and they show it in their blogs, Bigredkitty, Jacemora, and his own, Marriedirl.

    Playing with people who are out to have fun in the same way you are makes the game so much more enjoyable, thanks Fio (and all our other wonderful leaders, Cay, Doom, BRK, Naki)!

  4. My GM……

    Knows when I’m typically online and not. (Saturday afternoons: Wyn! What are you doing on?? Sunday night phone call: Wyn, are you okay?)

    Asks me questions about Priests when he doesn’t know the answers about group set up, recruiting, or loot council.

    Really does his best to treat everyone fairly – officers, long time members, or trials. That doesn’t always mean equally, and shouldn’t. But DEFINITELY fairly.

    Blows up once in a while…. but gets over it FAST and apologizes appropriately. It’s nice to have a GM that knows when to take things seriously, and not.

  5. While I’m just a reader (always a pleasure to read your team’s work!), I kinda think you might be over analyzing the whole GM position. You did the hard work in your recruiting: finding like minded players. The rest is gravy.

    My GM is great. Easily the best GM I have had. Why? Because he enforces the guild vision. I play WoW to raid, and it is a joy to have a GM who demands our best and is always pushing just a little harder. Not pushing in a bad or cruel way, just demanding that we perform a little better than we have before. By restricting the guild to people who want to push forward (no alts or socials), we do better as a guild and a community. He attracts players who desire to be better and to accomplish difficult things which makes our guild environment refreshing.

    You seem to have accomplished the task of finding like minded players. Congratulations! If you can do that, your already doing better than the vast ocean of GMs. I’m sure Conquest is an amazing guild.

  6. My GM is named Dergidan.

    The way our guild is set up is slightly different. We have four people, Templars, who lead the guild via a council. Basically, they are all friends IRL who decided to play the game together and wanted to form a guild based on the ideals of friendship and fun together. They lead that way. Of course, we are a more casual guild and are really in the game simply for the fun of playing together. The guild was once described as ‘A Guild for Friends, by Friends’.

    Derg is a good guy. He is not, however, perfect.

    He does well in most of those categories. The one thing that he lacks, in my opinion, is the ability to take and accept criticism. While I would love to say that he is sometimes okay with it, more than often he is not. He tries to lead raids and things of that nature, but does not quite know how to use everyone properly. He does try to ask for help, but sometimes forgets or when someone tries to give him constructive criticism, he shuts down.

    However, all that being said, he has things set up so that the guild functions smoothly in almost all cases. One of our Templars is our MT, so he takes care of most of that stuff in raids, with marks and what not. I am an officer, not a Templar, and I am the main healer of the guild. As such, I take care of healing assignments and running that aspect of the raid. Our other two Templars take care of reading up on a lot of the boss strategies and deciding how we can best mold our guild into using what people have done before us. They are really good at improvisation, and as such, do well with adapting to things that come up unexpectedly. This being said, it mostly falls to Korvik (our MT) and me (the MH), to lead the raids and get everything flowing properly.

    Derg is a great guy. However, he considers himself merely a figurehead most of the time since the guild is run by a Templar council. 😉

    He does well in his assigned roles. I just wish he could take criticism a little bit better.


  7. Gm’s who “accidently” misloot items to his innercircle.

    gquit sunday after tier gloves went out no bid to his buddy on accident.
    pugged a full clear of naxx got archliches wand and saw more content in a day than I saw in two weeks of wrath with my bt hyjal guild…. that had lots of “accidents” in that content.

    its great to be a healer.

  8. Great article. I love taking real life matters and tying them back into WoW.
    Though I would have to say that this misses the #1 guild killer: inconsistency. Maybe that falls into the General Ineptitude category but I think it’s important enough to get its own designation. I can’t begin to count the number of guilds that have broken up over inconsistent policies, whether they be loot rules, raid spots, membership status, or anything else under the Azerothian sun. Hitting it out of the park on all the other points? Awesome. Lacking consistency? Kiss it goodbye.
    As for our guild I’m always impressed by my fellow officer’s depth of knowledge of the game and their ability to diffuse problems.

    Guild Gurus last blog post..Enjoying The Wipe

  9. My is MY GM great? His former handle made me believe he was a hot interweb chick. Turns out that chick is really a dude. Boooo, but luckily that wasn’t the last thing I learned about him. He can heal his ass off too. Too bad he is also good at running into and away from things.

  10. “While I’m just a reader (always a pleasure to read your team’s work!), I kinda think you might be over analyzing the whole GM position. You did the hard work in your recruiting: finding like minded players. The rest is gravy.”

    I laughed when I read this, and I mean absolutely no disrespect to the poster in saying that, but the first thought was, “Oh, if only!”

    I am the Commandant (GM) of the Damnation Army, which I founded and have had the privilege of presiding over for nearly a year. We follow a strict hierarchy system for ranking as befitting a paramilitary town defense unit. And I can assure you that as difficult as recruitment might be, it can seem easy when compared with some of the other responsibilities and obligations we have to maintain.

    Often overlooked is that, for us, there is no ‘off button.’ We don’t have the liberty of being able to log on and go mindlessly level or find some peace and quiet (that’s what ‘hidden’ alts are for). There is always something that needs planning, organising, checking up on, or following through with, in order to maintain a well-run guild. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished, now being the premier town-defense guild on our server, but speaking from experience I don’t think for a moment that Matt is over-analysing or taking this too seriously. He is new to the position, and in time, his visions will translate into experience. Some of his visions will fail, some will wither and fade away, a chiseling process where imaginations of one’s mind meets the reality of involving other people. And with some perseverence and luck (and I’m a big believer in the adage ‘hard work creates its own luck’) Conquest will grow and develop in the direction he’s steering it, even after the First Big Crisis arrives to test him (and it *will* come).

    I’ve yet to meet a single player who was worth a damn who didn’t take the game seriously (and by that, I don’t necessarily mean being a mirthless stuffed shirt, mind, but rather simply having a focus and desire to excel). I think most anyone here posting and reading this probably fall to a good degree in this category- after all, why bother to read this kind of blog if you didn’t? But as Matt transitions from being ‘just’ a healer and into a GM as well, I’m looking forward to reading perspectives on both topics.

    Apoptygmaas last blog post..Damnation Army in Retributive Strike on Stormwind

  11. I really hope none of the “god I hate my GM” posts here are my guildies in disguise.

    But I have to agree that enthusiasm is the most important quaility a GL can possess. I am not a walking WoWwiki or a master of every class and spec (though I’m trying!) but I care more about my guild and their happiness than I do for just about any other thing in my life. I have a passion for this game and this guild that I’d like to think excuses the mistakes, poor judgement calls and occasional lapses in composure that happen to all human beings.

    At least I hope so.

    Oriniwens last blog post..It’s a Whole New Game

  12. You said: “What am I doing following someone who doesn’t seem to care about this game as much as I do? Is this someone I really want to follow?”

    I think it was http://blessingofkings.blogspot.com, but I’ve searched back a bit and can’t find it to quote there, so it may have been someone else, and if so, I apologise.

    Someone posted that everyone who plays less than you isn’t dedicated enough and doesn’t deserve the loot. Everyone who plays more than you has no life. Isn’t it great that _you_ managed to find a balance?


  13. My GM:

    tbh, my GM is the reason why our guild is still standing, along with some other officers, i don’t like to look like someone who ‘s trying to get a raise but he has some good qualities that keep us up :

    – Enthusiasm
    – Good Coordination with the rest of guldies
    – Professionalism
    – Firm when needed
    – has Integrity
    – Present at all raids

    what i like mostly about him is that he always asking about other classes abilities in order to learn what can help in composing a raid .

    and most of all, he treats us all with resepct, and he takes the GL position like a RL position with all the pain and headache it gives, becuz ofc in every guild there will be problems, although he is not forced to handle all this, but his passion for the game drives him to do this, and yes, i found my self compelled to talk about him when i saw the title to prove that other Guild leaders can be just wonderful 🙂

    thank u

    PS: he s a resto druid 😛 why i have a feeling healers usually make good GL, matt :)?

  14. I have to agree with the others that you are over analyzing the whole situation. Basically once you get the procedures, policies, and goals the rest is all about acting them out, and the hardest part of acting out everything is getting like minded people.
    In my guild’s case, we have the GM who wants to raid, and set the guild up to raid, and has about 3 other people interested and the other 20 or so just dont care. They signed on to raid, but when it came time to lvl, half of them are not eve 75 yet.
    You got this in the bag man, just keep doing what you are doing and you will succeed.

  15. The only GM I’ve ever really had was a priest by the name of Eldadres.

    He originally started out as a lock named Swordemon, and then switched.
    I thought he was a good gm: good natured, able to tell people whats up, and he wanted us to have fun.

    One thing that he couldn’t help was that he sounded a little High-pitched… and so no one really took him all too seriously.

    I’m really sad that the guild fell apart, as I thought he was a great GM. But there weren’t enough people in the guild who were mature enough and serious enough to take advantage of his leadership.

  16. My GM is fantastic.
    I joined my guild in September 08 after spending almost all of my levelling career in another guild. And I think it is being in a guild with an absolutely DIRE GM that made me realise how good Tankker (Justice League – Terenas-EU) is.
    He listens to me, he resonds to my worries, he pays attention when I say something I think is important, yet at the same time I have the uttermost respect for him for being level headed, fair and reasonable.
    I shut up and listen when he speaks during raid – as we all do – I have faith in him to tell me what to do if the need arises, and I have faith that whatever he tells me to do will be the right thing.
    Basically, the guild comes first to him, not his own advancement. I’ve been in guilds before where the only thing that mattered was the GM’s personal character and her goals – she did not care about the rest of us and was totally uninterested. So to be working under someone like Tankker makes a huge difference.

    Sophie (Elsen-Terenas-EU)s last blog post..Updates

  17. Sadly, now that I think of my past guild history, almost all the failures and /gquits were caused by poor GMs.

    My first raiding guild in BC was led by a very, very self-centered warrior and a small group of his close officer buddies. He didn’t care about progression or gearing up guildies, and didn’t even bother to set up a working loot system (it was /roll, with dibs going to the GM’s friends.) There was no app process, or anything else you’d typically expect of a raiding guild. We were essentially a PuG with a common guild tag. Needless to say I was hungry for some real progression… and so were several others in the guild. We spoke up together to ask to begin T5 (we had been farming Mags and Gruul for months) and ended up rubbing the wrong way with the GM, so we all got gkicked. I have no regrets, because after that I started looking for more structured guilds to raid with.

    There’s not much I have to say about my second GM, I never really got to know him. I joined a T6 raiding guild as a social member (because they were full up on Hunters) and the Hunter class lead basically stood between me and any chance of raiding in that guild. I don’t think the class lead liked me, because I was out-DPSing him in vastly inferior gear. People started getting lazy and not logging on for raids a few months before WotLK, so the guild more or less died.

    My third raiding guild, and my last one before I transferred off of Blackhand, was interesting. The people were good. I thought the GM was, too, until after I left and things I hadn’t known before started to surface. The GM had formerly led another guild on Dragonmaw, but drama that got publicized on WoWInsider forced him to transfer and start anew. The problem that eventually drove me to transfer was similar to why people raised drama on Dragonmaw; he lacked empathy on a massive scale. It was clear that he cared about the guild, but more for his reputation than progression or the guild itself. He was also very stubborn and his ego dictated that banging heads against a boss that the guild wasn’t ready to down yet for an entire night was better than calling it and trying again tomorrow. If a guildie was having issues with the way he ran things, he didn’t try to talk it out, he simply gkicked. A lot of great players were lost that way.

    After this third guild, my guild search went multiserver. In the past I had been limited by the availability of recruiting guilds on Blackhand. My fourth guild was on Dark Iron. The GM was well loved by the members and they unanimously voted to give the GM the first Twilight Drake that dropped when we downed Sarth+3. The problem was he didn’t seem to care much. He was a nice guy, but he would often log out an hour or two before the end of a raid if we were having issues/wiping. Not long after I joined the guild he stepped down, to be replaced by a new GM (also warrior, hey!) … this GM didn’t listen to the wishes of his guild members. He wanted a black proto drake, never mind whether the rest of us were up to tons of force wipes trying to get a particular achievement or not. Arguments and lots of instability, including officers gquitting, caused them to disband.

    With Ulduar around the bend I was surprised to find that a lot of guilds are actually looking for Hunters o.o (this never happened in BC.) I managed to sign on with a top Horde guild on Gorgonnash (same battlegroup as Blackhand, irony)

    This guild is interesting in that they actually don’t really have a GM-type figure. There are officers on the top platform, and that’s it. Each officer has an assigned role, ie recruiting, leading raids, healing, DPS, etc. It seems to be working.


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