Guild Leadership; An In-Depth Look at Leadership in MMOs


Of the most overused and misunderstood two words for gamers, leader and leadership are often the most confusing, simply because many people are thrust into roles in gaming without a clear definition of where they fit in the big scheme of the game. This is especially true when being part of a guild or clan in gaming, where tens to hundreds of players are interacting with each other through developer content in the guild setting. Thousands are interacting on any one server, and millions are playing the game for years. Each moment of this playtime a leader emerges whether it is expected of them or not.

The purpose of this article is to explore exactly what leadership is, the types of leadership styles, gaming leadership application, the art of the follower, and the importance of training leaders at all levels.

What is Leadership?

First are two definitions of leadership that we will use to discuss what leadership is:

1. Organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.

2. Process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.

As we can see the organization of people is directly related to the achievement of the common goal(s) and completion of the common task(s). We will discuss this more in depth after looking at leadership styles.

Leadership Styles

The following leadership styles are discussed solely in terms of their benefits and complications when applied to MMOs.

Autocratic leadership

Autocratic leadership is an extreme form of transactional leadership, where leaders have absolute power over their workers or team. Staff and team members have little opportunity to make suggestions, even if these would be in the team's or the organization's best interest. Most people tend to resent being treated like this. Therefore, autocratic leadership often leads to high levels of absenteeism and staff turnover. However, for some routine and unskilled jobs, the style can remain effective because the advantages of control may outweigh the disadvantages.

This is not a very productive style of leadership for MMOs in any case.

Bureaucratic leadership

Bureaucratic leaders work "by the book." They follow rules rigorously, and ensure that their staff follows procedures precisely. This is a very appropriate style for work involving serious safety risks (such as working with machinery, with toxic substances, or at dangerous heights) or where large sums of money are involved (such as handling cash).

This style of leadership is good for a guild’s banker or guild treasurer.

Charismatic leadership

A charismatic leadership style can seem similar to transformational leadership, because these leaders inspire lots of enthusiasm in their teams and are very energetic in driving others forward. However, charismatic leaders can tend to believe more in themselves than in their teams, and this creates a risk that a project, or even an entire organization, might collapse if the leader leaves. In the eyes of the followers, success is directly connected to the presence of the charismatic leader. As such, charismatic leadership carries great responsibility, and it needs a long-term commitment from the leader.

Many guild leaders fall into the trap of trying to be this type of leader, which in the end causes large people to leave the guild when the charisma wears out.

Democratic leadership or participative leadership

Although democratic leaders make the final decisions, they invite other members of the team to contribute to the decision-making process. This not only increases job satisfaction by involving team members, but it also helps to develop people's skills. Team members feel in control of their own destiny, so they're motivated to work hard by more than just a financial reward. Because participation takes time, this approach can take longer, but often the end result is better. The approach can be most suitable when working as a team is essential, and when quality is more important than speed to market, or productivity.

This is a very appropriate style of leadership for guild leaders who want long-term success for their guild. This is also appropriate in the group setting when playing through game content.

Laissez-faire leadership

This French phrase means "leave it be," and it's used to describe leaders who leave their team members to work on their own. It can be effective if the leader monitors what's being achieved and communicates this back to the team regularly. Most often, laissez-faire leadership is effective when individual team members are very experienced and skilled self-starters. Unfortunately, this type of leadership can also occur when managers don't apply sufficient control.

This is a more appropriate style of leadership for guild leaders who have long-standing successful guilds.

People-oriented leadership or relations-oriented leadership

This is the opposite of task-oriented leadership. With people-oriented leadership, leaders are totally focused on organizing, supporting, and developing the people in their teams. It's a participative style, and it tends to encourage good teamwork and creative collaboration. In practice, most leaders use both task-oriented and people-oriented styles of leadership.

This is an appropriate style of leadership for project organizers within the guild. It is good for focus groups for community relations and guild website projects.

Servant leadership

This term, created by Robert Greenleaf in the 1970s, describes a leader who is often not formally recognized as such. When someone, at any level within an organization, leads simply by meeting the needs of the team, he or she is described as a "servant leader." In many ways, servant leadership is a form of democratic leadership, because the whole team tends to be involved in decision making.

Supporters of the servant leadership model suggest that it's an important way to move ahead in a world where values are increasingly important, and where servant leaders achieve power on the basis of their values and ideals. Others believe that in competitive leadership situations, people who practice servant leadership can find themselves left behind by leaders using other leadership styles.

This is an appropriate style of leadership very early on in a guild’s formation, later on it is not as powerful as other styles.

Task-Oriented leadership

Highly task-oriented leaders focus only on getting the job done, and they can be quite autocratic. They actively define the work and the roles required, put structures in place, plan, organize, and monitor. However, because task-oriented leaders don't tend to think much about the well-being of their teams, this approach can suffer many of the flaws of autocratic leadership, with difficulties in motivating and retaining staff.

This style of leadership is not appropriate in a MMO setting.

Chances are, you've experienced this leadership style for years.

Transactional leadership

This style of leadership starts with the idea that team members agree to obey their leader totally when they accept a job. The "transaction" is usually the organization paying the team members in return for their effort and compliance. The leader has a right to "punish" team members if their work doesn't meet the pre-determined standard.

Team members can do little to improve their job satisfaction under transactional leadership. The leader could give team members some control of their income/reward by using incentives that encourage even higher standards or greater productivity. Alternatively, a transactional leader could practice "management by exception" – rather than rewarding better work, the leader could take corrective action if the required standards are not met.

Transactional leadership is really a type of management, not a true leadership style, because the focus is on short-term tasks. It has serious limitations for knowledge-based or creative work, however it can be effective in other situations.

This style of leadership is appropriate for project managers within a guild for short-term tasks. This style can be effective during group content to ensure the content is completed, but should not be used a long term style. Specific situations make this good, others, it will cause strife.

Transformational leadership

As we discussed earlier, people with this leadership style are true leaders who inspire their teams constantly with a shared vision of the future. While this leader's enthusiasm is often passed onto the team, he or she can need to be supported by "detail people." That's why, in many organizations, both transactional and transformational leadership are needed. The transactional leaders (or managers) ensure that routine work is done reliably, while the transformational leaders look after initiatives that add new value.

This is one of the most powerful styles of leadership that a guild or group leader can have.

Gaming Leadership

Now that we’ve seen the definition of a leader and the styles that best fit in MMO leadership (a mixture of people-oriented, task-oriented, participative/democratic and transformational) how do we put these together in a leadership package that ensures a guild can and will achieve its goals?

Let us define our process of leadership on a general level based on the definitions we viewed before.

Clearly the best way to lead.


This is known as end-state thinking, or what the leader wants the guild or group to accomplish as a completed task or completed ongoing tasks, defined as the end state. The leader must have a vision of what they want to accomplish before even starting to organize people. Without determination of the goal, or abstract and illusive visions of what they want to accomplish, the leader is failing at completing an essential step in the leadership process, no matter what level of leadership they fall under. Other words that can be used to describe this are: objective, mission, end-state, vision.


While a guild can have multiple goals or overarching goals (i.e. “clear all dungeons”, “be the number one PvP team”), each goal must be treated separately so that a course of action (the organization of guild members) can be set out on how to obtain each goal. The goal itself helps to define the organization. For instance a PvP focused guild is not one that is apt to take on a majority of PvE-oriented players or vice versa. A casual guild is not one that should be apt to take on very serious, competitive gamers, or vice versa. The goal itself is the key to organization of a guild or group. 

Guild Leadership

A simple way to determine the overall goal of the guild (why are you making a guild in the first place?) is to make a statement in one or two sentences that defines the goal. This is referred to as a mission statement. The mission statement gives the overall purpose of the leader or their organization in writing for all to see. The mission statement creates a foundation for guild leaders and their organization, and should be the backbone with which all decisions are made.

An example mission statement from McDonald’s:

“To provide the fast food customer food prepared in the same high-quality manner world-wide that is tasty, reasonably-priced & delivered consistently in a low-key décor and friendly atmosphere.”

This statement sets the goal and purpose of every interaction in McDonald’s, and the use of a mission statement in the creation and organizing of a guild is the first and foremost task of the guild leader.

Once the mission statement is finished, use it to organize, train, and equip group leaders and guild members towards that goal. If a situation calls for a determination on how to proceed, use the mission statement as a guide to make the decision.

Group Leadership

Group leaders have a daunting task, sometimes even more so than the guild leader (who often takes on both roles). While their goal may be apparent (i.e. finish this dungeon, win this arena match), group leaders have the day-to-day interaction with the members of the guild and with those outside the guild. Given this, some common rules apply here as well. First, group leaders must ensure every member of the group knows the goals, just as a guild leader lets the public know their goals through the mission statement. Let the members of the group know the goal up front, and ensure they are aware of the requirement to complete the goal.

An objective-focused group that puts aside personal desires for the group’s overall goal is one that is much stronger than a group of players who are in the group solely to achieve a collection of personal objectives. The group leader ensures the overall goal encompasses all the personal objectives as well. Most players want the group the succeed just as much as they want to further their own objectives in the game. Melding these two together are essential. If a player is not in line with this philosophy they should be either convinced of its effectiveness or removed from the group. Disharmony of one player creates disharmony among the entire group.

Remember MMOs are both social endeavors and have a myriad of common tasks to accomplish. The group leader is the primary organizer to complete these gaming tasks and this is a position that should not be taken lightly. Being a leader in the game is like being a leader anywhere else, except in gaming personal goals often clash with overall objectives, and players tend to go down paths during group play that detract from the accomplishment of the overall objective. Most players need to be taught that accomplishment of the overall objective is a path to accomplishing personal objectives for their characters.

The Art of the Follower

No good discussion of leadership can be complete when talking about the customer of all leaders, followers. Let us look at Ten Rules of Good Followership by Col Phillip Meilinger and how his rules can apply to a guild.

1. Don’t blame your boss for an unpopular decision or policy; your job is to support, not undermine.This is especially true in both the guild and group dynamics. Your job as a follower is to follow decisions whether you like them at first or not.

2. Fight with your boss if necessary; but do it in private, avoid embarrassing situations, and never reveal to others what was discussed. If you disagree with the decisions being made, go directly to the guild or group leader (often accomplished through messages and private chat), and don't call them out in public. Then, don't go and talk about it behind that person's back. This undermines the leader and guild immensely when this is done, and is one of the primary reasons for people leaving a guild and guild's breaking up.

3. Make the decision, then run it past the boss; use your initiative. If you are in a situation where you have to make the decision, do so. For leaders, don't micromanage your followers.

4. Accept responsibility whenever it is offered. If you are given a task or role in the guild or in a group, do your absolute best to fulfill that task or role.

5. Tell the truth and don’t quibble; your boss will be giving advice up the chain of command based on what you said. Anything you tell an intermediate leader should be assumed as being directly told to someone higher.

6. Do your homework; give your boss all the information needed to make a decision; anticipate possible questions. Don't expect the leader to understand your situation immediately, it is completely up to you to take responsibility for providing the most information possible to help guild and group leaders make decisions based on your situation. Also, don't feel disrespected when a leader may not see things your way and ask you to explain further.

7. When making a recommendation, remember who will probably have to implement it. This means you must know your own limitations and weaknesses as well as your strengths. This is especially important when suggesting new strategies and tactics in a dynamic environment. If you are changing something everyone has to accomplish, you can almost always expect push back on the idea. Remembering your own strengths and weaknesses can help you assure others that your idea is plausible and efficient.

8. Keep your boss informed of what’s going on in the unit; people will be reluctant to tell him or her their problems and successes. You should do it for them, and assume someone else will tell the boss about yours. Remember to provide feedback especially if you are an intermediate leader. If a situation occurs within the guild that you believe should be brought to the attention of the leadership, do so. A guild's power rests on the respect between members and the willingness to stand up and say something if it empowers the members of the guild.

9. If you see a problem, fix it. Don’t worry about who would have gotten the blame or who now gets the praise. Often times people are reluctant to fix a problem because they either don't feel they are empowered to fix the problem, or they are afraid they will be blamed as being part of the problem requiring the fix. This is unfounded logic. Problems that need fixing should be fixed at the earliest opportunity lest they become bigger problems that cannot be fixed without drastic measures.

10. Put in more than an honest day’s work, but don’t ever forget the needs of your family. If they are unhappy, you will be too, and your job performance will suffer accordingly. As a guild member, real life comes first. Remember that, always. If your family and life outside of gaming is suffering, there is a deeper issue. You cannot be an effective guild member or player if your life away from gaming is being affected negatively by your gaming. If you need to, take a break from gaming, guild's understand that burnout from a game is a undeniable negative consequence from not requiring balance in one's life. Your guild will be better off having a player who is fresh and ready to take on challenges in game, than a player who comes to events with a negative attitude and poor attention span due to outside life challenges.


Leadership Training

"Leaders aren't born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that's the price we'll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal."
- Vince Lombardi

The Vince Lombardi quote should be posted on the front of any leadership book. Regardless of what people think about the quote, almost everyone has run into a good leader and a bad leader at some point in the their gaming career. The thing is we remember vividly the really good and really bad leaders and why they were good or bad. The thing about this is that the good leaders in many cases could have been a lot better, and the bad leaders may have improved had they actually been trained to be good leaders.

Since this is one article in a great many in our Academic Guides, this section won't go into great detail on how to implement a leadership training program, instead it will focus on why that leadership program is important to the overall success of the guild.

Why Train Leaders?

In a guild, everyone can be a leader at some point. The guild leader is often the most noticeable and recognizable but most other members at some point will lead a group and will lead a guild function. Training guild members in the art of leadership will do three things:

1. Training builds confidence among guild members in the guild leadership. The trust between leaders and members is essential to the success of the guild. If the general membership cannot trust members in leadership roles and their decisions, a guild will soon fall apart because of this lack of trust. Members will use the guild for solely personal objectives rather than be motivated to further advance the guild objectives (which in almost every case would more rapidly fulfill their personal objectives).

2. Training builds bonds of trust between guild members that can be counted upon during guild events.If members cannot trust each other to take on leadership positions in dynamic situations (i.e. a group leader dies and another member must immediately pick up that role) then events will fail time and time again. Along with this failure, members not trained as leaders will be unable to handle situations they would normally shy away from.

3. Training instills the confidence in each player to take leadership skills out to their daily lives and become productive members of not only the guild, but society itself. This is an often overlooked product of guild leadership qualities. More often than not, guild leaders and members who have been given leadership roles used gaming to help develop leadership abilities that allow them to operate in "highly distributed, global, hyper-competitive, virtual environments". By helping members gain confidence through gaming, you allow them to gain confidence in real-world situations that will in turn reciprocate back to the gaming environment. This sense of accomplishment reflects back and forth and creates happier, healthier, and more productive guild members and members of society.


1. Leadership. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leadership
2. Leadership Styles. http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_84.htm
3. Mission Statement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_statement
4. The Ten Rules of Good Followership. https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.au.af.mil%2Fau%2Fawc%2Fawcgate%2Fau-24%2Fmeilinger.pdf
5. Virtual Worlds; Real Leaders. https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ibm.com%2Fibm%2Fgio%2Fmedia%2Fpdf%2Fibm_gio_gaming_report.pdf

No comments:

Post a Comment

While Spam is considered a delicacy by some, it is not on this blog. All comments will be moderated to ensure the highest level of decorum and thought-provoking discussion.