Accountability Starts at the Top

This is a guest post by Arkom.

If you’re a guild or raid leader, you have certain expectations for your guild or team members. You establish rules and policies, you set up strategies, and you assign people to handle certain jobs. These aren’t hollow gestures and you want people to follow what they’re told to do. I mean, you do all of these things for very specific reasons. And when someone doesn’t follow along in the spirit of things? You hold them accountable for their actions, right? But what does that mean for you? How do you figure into the grand scheme of things, since you are at the top of whichever chain of command? What should you do when you make a mistake? Have you ever really thought about it?

The View from the Top

When you are in a position of leadership, it’s easy to miss things. You end up being responsible for so many things in your guild or your raid team that some of them will naturally slip by. This is unfortunate, but it happens because we are human and we’re dealing with other humans. We are not infallible. But in this sense, we get a broader view of what’s going on. To paint a mental picture, you can imagine you’re on a balcony, looking down at a crowd on the street. You see the group as a whole, moving to and fro, busily doing the things that they do in their day. Things may appear to be normal and perfect on the surface. However, there may be someone in that crowd who just stole someone’s wallet and no one is the wiser because there are too many people and all of them have their own things going on.

The View Looking Up

The people on your raid team or in your guild, however, have precisely the opposite vantage. In their picture, they may all be standing in that crowd on the street, looking up at you on the balcony. That is to say, as a leader, you are under constant scrutiny. Where you may not see the mistakes of an individual in the whole group every single time, you can bet your dear Aunt Mavis that more than one person in that crowd will see the mistakes you make. That’s sometimes an uncomfortable position to be in, but that’s why you get paid the big bucks. It may also be the reason you pop Extra Strength Tylenol like they were candy.

R. E. S. P. E. C. T. Find Out What it Means to Me

Now that I have you feeling like you’re you’re trying to use the bathroom in a house with glass walls, what DO you do when your human side (not the one referenced in the bathroom bit) shows and you make a mistake? Well, that really depends entirely on what you’re comfortable with. What should be obvious, I think, is that the best course to take in this situation is to fess up to falling short. Admit your error, apologize if that’s necessary, and do your best to not have a repeat performance. The tricky part of this scenario is that not everyone is comfortable with these things. To those people I say, “You’re in the wrong position.” One of the greatest tools a leader has at his or her disposal is the ability to honestly account for their failings. If you just glaze over the issue, ignore it completely, or offer up an empty apology to your team or guild, you’ve severely injured your reputation, your credibility, and the respect that those people have for you.

There’s a common notion that leadership is a position of servitude. Perhaps it isn’t correct in its every facet, but it certainly is true that we are, to some degree, beholden to those that we lead. We have a responsibility for them, which we have taken on of our own free (and sometimes I think, insane) will. After all, those who lead but have no followers have often been referred to by such colorful terms as, “crazy,” “eccentric,” and things that Matticus probably wouldn’t like me to put in his blog. So let’s just say that without people to lead, you aren’t a leader at all. When you damage their respect for
you, when you hurt your credibility, when you tarnish your reputation, you give those people a reason to leave. The more reasons you give them – and believe me, these reasons compound faster than you would think – the harder it will be to get others to join and stay in their place. So if you do have problems with saying things like, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake there and I will do my best not to let it happen again,” you should probably work on that or consider a future in playing games like Solitaire.

Over-stating the Obvious

Am I? I wish I was. Oh, by Ghostcrawler’s chitinous shell, I wish that I was. I sometimes find it hard to believe the number of times I’ve found myself in situations where the leadership’s reply never came at all, or if it did it was completely empty (and that’s much, much worse than not saying anything at all) or something about how their mistake wasn’t a mistake at all, because they’re the leadership and what they say goes. It happens. Perhaps you’ve been in a situation like that, from either the side where the leaders were saying it to you, or being part of the leader group that was saying it. If you have ever been subjected to those things, I’m guessing they didn’t endear you to those who were supposed to be leading you. World of Warcraft is a game and it’s something we play to have fun and unwind. That doesn’t seem to add up with the part where you have this whole crazy responsibility thing to worry about, but it’s true regardless. So when you find yourself at one of those points in your life as a leader when you’ve just boned it in front of a group, my advice is to take a moment to consider what you would expect of one of the other people in that situation. Would you want an explanation? Would you want an apology? Would you want to make them cry by bawling them out loudly and publicly and then yell at them more for crying like the More DoTs!!! guy? Well, for all of those but the last option, I suggest you do the same yourself. Apologize. Explain the mistake. But stand up and admit you were wrong. For that last one? Anger management. Seriously.

When you lead a raid or you lead a guild, the people who run with you or who are members of your guild are putting a trust in you to be an example of what you expect in them. You are in a position that allows you to directly influence the experience they have in this game, for better or for worse. That’s a huge responsibility and it should be taken seriously. If you can’t admit when you’re wrong, you aren’t just making things bad for yourself, you’re making things bad for them, too. Remember, it all starts with you and it all ends with you. And let’s face it, when you do have to take the heat, it kinda sucks, but when you know that you’ve played an important part in making other people’s time in World of Warcraft better, more fun, more exciting, and more entertaining? That’s a pretty great feeling. That’s the feeling that makes it all worthwhile.

4 thoughts on “Accountability Starts at the Top”

  1. What an excellent post! This sums up much of what I strive for as a guild leader. I don’t always succeed, and I’m still learning, but am I ever conscious of the responsibility.

    I didn’t realize – having never led a guild into a new expansion – just how intense the role would be for the first few weeks (months?) of Cataclysm. This is very timely to remind me that I’ll probably goof things up, but I try my best and hold myself accountable for my own mistakes. I hope my guild will continue to have patience with me and know that I’ve always got their best interests in mind.

    Thanks for the great piece!

  2. Really good post. As raid members we need to try and remember all the pressure and problems our raid and guild leaders have. As members, imo, one of the most important things we can do is not immediately lose our minds or get upset in chat or vent when something appears to not go our way or seems unfair. Message or privately talk to the leader or gm and voice your concern. There’s a 100% better chance to get something resolved or explained doing this than acting the fool. I’ve seen it happen too many times in the past when someone will let their emotions run wild in the moment and cause unneeded drama and “burn bridges”.

  3. Good post indeed. I sometimes whish my fellow guildies could walk a day in my shoes so they understand that its not always possible to see every fault made. And yes admiting when you did wrong and try to find a way to rectify it is the best way to go. Thankfully I have a very strong team of officers to help me see the light 🙂

  4. The admitting you’re wrong part is the most important advice in this post for sure. Matticus also points out the most essential advice you can give any leader or authority figure: try and put yourself in the shoes of those you deal with and figure out the fitting response based on that. This is much harder than it sounds, however.

    One thing that is very important for leaders when they apologize for something is to point out that they know what went wrong, why it went wrong and why they think it won’t happen again. This is very basic stuff, but depending on the thing you are apologizing for, this can be a few words on each point, or a few paragraphs. This is because the main thing your followers want you to do is to *protect their investment*. In a sense the leadership-follower relationship in guilds is the same one that a CEO has with his company’s shareholders. The CEO is generally a dictator with a lot of power, but the shareholders are ultimately the ones who provide that power and consequently can take it away. When something goes wrong, they want assurances from the CEO that things will be fixed.

    Are your operations being cancelled because there isn’t enough manpower? Or specialists? Your shareholders want to know what you’re doing with recruitment to fix this. Are there glaring issues with your resource management and reward system that are causing some unfairness and perhaps even arguments between people? Your shareholders want to know when the system will be revamped. IS some guy always kicking up a fuss and making people feel bad? Your shareholders want to know how you’re going to pacify this person and retain him for his skills or if you are going to kick him out and replace him.

    In the end, your shareholders/guildies have made an investment of their time and emotion in your guild and trust you to a certain extent to manage it well. If you waste any of it in any measure, you will need to account for it, or their trust will eventually be whittled down to nothing and they will go somewhere else. How long this takes depends on many things, such as social bonds and shared history, but everyone has a breaking point and as a leader you really don’t want to find out where it is.


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