What is a leader? A century ago, we might have said, “He’s the boss, the man in charge.” Back then, most people did routine jobs and needed someone in charge to tell them what to do.
We are in the 21st Century now; times and people have changed. Most of us are skillful and well educated. We know how to do our jobs, and for the most part, we enjoy doing them. We don’t need bosses – We need leaders.
There is a parallel in fantasy games. When we created Quest for Glory, the Warrior had a simple role. He was strong, good with weapons, well armored, and perhaps not too bright.
Those times are no more. In the School for Heroes, the Fighter has become the Warrior who leads others to greatness. In MMO (massively multiplayer online) games like World of Warcraft, the fighter has become the ‘tank.’ A tank has more responsibility than anyone else on the team.
Tanks have five main responsibilities: They need to lead by example, inspiring the rest of their team. They need to survive and overcome injury and other setbacks. They need to act as the first line of defense, protecting the other team members. They need to divide the opposition so that the party never faces more than it can handle. And most of all, they need to encourage and support their team so that everyone does their jobs well.
In other words, a great tank must be a leader.
Here are some lessons that every good tank – and every good leader – needs to know.
Lead by Example
The best tanks know their own role thoroughly and understand the abilities of the other players. They don’t tell another player how to play, but they provide clear direction so that everyone works together. They choose which targets should be “crowd-controlled” (stunned, put to sleep, trapped, etc.) and which should be the first “kill targets”. Then they focus on their own job and trust the rest of the team to play their roles.
The best leaders are right there in the trenches with their troops, doing their own jobs competently and effectively. They give general direction without trying to micro-manage every task. They act more like knowledgeable co-workers than bosses, and the people working with them can see that the leader is right there working hard. When someone on the team has a question, the leader answers promptly and concisely.
Take a Lickin’, But Keep On Tickin’
The tank’s main job is to stand up under fire. He might be able to withstand four or five enemies better than anyone else in the party can handle one. The other players will do their jobs better if they know they are safe. This role starts with good equipment and character abilities, but continues with skillful timing and play. Is a big attack coming? Then use a mitigation talent. Is that attack a powerful area effect? Then move out of the area! Don’t just stand there and stress your healer’s ability.
The business equivalents to stamina and mitigation are tenacity, resilience, and flexibility. Is a supplier late with a critical component? Respond by changing the production sequence so that part is needed last. Or temporarily get a substitute from an alternate supplier. Are creditors late with their payments, or are they on Net 60 payment terms? Make sure you have the tenacity of sufficient cash reserves so that you can continue to produce while waiting for payment.
Dance the Masochism Tango
MMO tanks have many ways of attracting the enemy’s attention. They can “taunt”, they can do a sweeping attack that angers everyone, they may be able to daze or stun the enemies for a few seconds, and they can move around so that the rest of the team has a safer area in which to fight. To be a great tank, you have to be a little bit of a masochist – You have to want the enemy to hate you and to hurt you. Why? Because you can handle it, and your teammates aren’t as well equipped to survive a heavy onslaught.
Above all, the tank takes responsibility for everyone’s actions, not just his own. A great leader does that too.
Never forget that your job as the leader tank is to keep everyone else in your organization safe. That means you need clear policies that allow others to take appropriate risks and occasionally fail. They need to know that their jobs are safe (as long as they are effective contributors), and that you are their shield against outside critics and job uncertainty. Let your employees and co-workers know that you trust them and that you “have their backs”. If another manager – or an outsider – criticizes your team, take personal responsibility – Don’t blame the people who work for you. You are the tank – You’re tough and you can take the heat.
An MMO tank is responsible for taking on only what the team can handle. That includes directing crowd control to split up the enemy forces, and “pulling” small groups of enemies so that wandering patrols don’t join them. If you are storming a castle, you will do better if you first take out the sentries one by one than if you charge down the middle yelling, “Leeroy Jenkins!”
A business leader knows what she and her team can handle. She tracks performance and uses the results to plan future projects. She works with the team to break complex jobs into manageable tasks. She lets her team direct the schedule for individual jobs, but she keeps track of the results. If the team is having trouble meeting a milestone, she works with them to renegotiate the schedule and to further divide the tasks so that everyone can meet their goals. When you pull together, everyone on the team wins.
Support the Team
A World of Warcraft player named Jadden from the U.S. Argent Dawn realm posted this wonderful article, “I met an Elitist Tank last night” on the WoW forums. Stop for a minute and read it. Jadden talks about two types of players – the ones who would rather put people down, and those who are willing, ready, and able to help lift them up. A great tank supports the team, encourages players to improve without cutting them down, and makes sure that individual contributions are recognized and encouraged.
I’ve worked with people who believed that all managers suck, and that you just have to keep your head down and try to survive. That isn’t how people accomplish great projects. Real leaders do not tear down their teams and leave them working in fear. The best leaders act as resources and tools to help the team do great work. They listen more than they demand, and they act decisively on what they hear. If the team needs training, the leader arranges it. If their development tools are inadequate, the leader purchases new ones or schedules time and people to create better tools. They don’t say, “If you had any talent or skill, you would get the job done with what you have.” They listen, they learn, and they support the team.
Rule #1: The Players Must Have Fun
It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing an MMO or directing a project team. When everyone is relaxed and enjoying what they’re doing, they will perform better. As the leader, you will have a lot more fun when your team is having fun. The rules of tanking go far beyond the game. You can waste your energy complaining about the idiots around you, or you can transform them into smarter, nicer, and more helpful people. Lead by example. Help them learn to improve their outlook and performance. Being a jerk is self-destructive; helpful people have more fun.
You don’t have to wear plate armor and carry a shield to be a great tank. You just have to want the team to win and work hard to help them get there. Your team members will see the difference. There is nothing quite like hearing, “Tanks for being a leader” from the people you’ve helped to do great work.