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Amtgard Lesson in Leadership
[10/01/2003] [Randall]

Harvest War has come and gone. Despite the fun times many people had fighting and hanging out with friends, the event has generally been considered a failure on many levels in much the same way Clan was. In its aftermath, we find ourselves harboring many doubts and asking many questions. Can Harvest War succeed in the future? Why do we go to the event? And perhaps the most important question of all, what went wrong?

The answers to these questions aren’t so much important for Harvest War as they are for all events. Any event, large or small, will stand or fall on the merits of the various ‘crats. From the man at the gate all the way to the person in charge, everyone needs to employ their leadership skills to the fullest to get the most out of the Amtgard event experience. Unlike many aspects of Amtgard, running an event requires talents and knowledge that can be learned easily from real life. Some fighters try to do this by applying, with limited success, ideas such as Sun Tzu’s or Musashi’s to their swordsmanship. We shall do the same by taking the advice of one of the most talented logisticians of the 20th century, Gen. Colin Powell.

Colin Powell’s Lessons in Leadership

1. Take charge of this post and all government property in view.
2. The mission is primary.
3. Don’t stand there. Do something.
4. Lead by example.
5. “No excuse, sir.”
6. Officers always eat last.
7. Never forget, you are an American infantryman, the best.
8. Never be without a watch, a pencil, and a notepad.

Take charge of this post and all government property in view.

In the real world, this means securing all resources available to you and begin leading them. At an event, things are seldom different. A good autocrat will scout out the event site many times before the big day arrives. They’ll make sure there’s ample camping space available, as well as ensuring that the ditch field is clear, available, and lit. They should also “take charge of the property”, as Powell puts it – if there are grills on site for cooking, fire rings for camping, and pavilions for feasting, the autocrat should secure them for the event and make maximum use of them.

Resources aren’t just physical objects. They’re also people. As autocrat, you should figure out who can do the best at each job and work to get them involved. Don’t forget that you can’t run the entire event yourself. A good leader is also good at delegating.

The mission is primary.

For any ‘crat, the event comes first. This doesn’t just mean your particular job, either – you might be doing a fine job while the rest of the event crumbles around you. It means the entire event. People are paying money to come play Amtgard with you and your friends and camp out for a weekend. It’s up to you to make sure they have the most fun possible, even at the expense of your own fun. If you don’t like that, don’t volunteer to run anything – besides, a good ‘crat has fun helping out, anyway.

Make sure your own task is nailed down, whatever it may be, and then keep your eyes open. If someone else needs help and you’re on gate, assign someone to babysit things for a while and go help them. Nobody will care in the end if you do your one particular task well if the entire event is a failure, so instead of sitting on your laurels, get out and help.

Don’t stand there. Do something.

Lots of people fail as ‘crats because they spend more time worrying than actually doing things. Most of the tasks involved with running gates, battlegames and feasts are simple and straightforward, and the more time you spend actually doing them, the less time you’ll spend placating upset people at your event. If something needs to be done, do it. If a decision needs to be made, make one. A good (or even quick) decision now is better than a perfect decision next week. Don’t worry so much about how things are going as long as they’re actually going. More often than not, if things are happening at all, they’re happening well.

Lead by example.

This one’s pretty simple, especially at events. In the real world, it’s more difficult for an officer to get into the trenches with his recruits, but Amtgard is different because of the scale difference – there may only be two or three people running the entire feast! This means the feast-o-crat should be helping with the food and not sitting down while others work. A ‘crat who is unwilling to get his hands dirty doing work should step aside and let someone else do the job.

While you’re at it, find someone who isn’t doing anything and recruit ‘em. If you’re working hard and someone is sitting around watching, chances are they’re pretty bored. Amtgarders are a helpful group of people, and if you’re giving a good example and appear to be in charge, they’ll be more than happy to volunteer. Just be careful that you’re not taking people away from the event, though.

“No excuse, sir.”

This is the hardest thing for Amtgarders to get their heads around. In the military, it obviously means that officers like Gen. Powell want answers, not excuses. In Amtgard, it means preparedness. You can have an excuse, but you should make sure the job is done anyway. This is perhaps the biggest problem Amtgard faces for events, because we believe that an excuse makes everything better and absolves people of all blame if they didn’t get their job done. It doesn’t and it shouldn’t, and the sooner people learn that, the sooner they can do the job right -- or step aside and let someone else take their place.

Anyone who is in charge of anything in an Amtgard setting should know how to do their job with their eyes closed, and then they should have one or two people who can do it if they’re not there. They should also make sure they can be contacted at any time. This means that war-o-crat who can’t show up can call you and say, “Sorry boss, I can’t make it – but my two friends have everything under control.” Simply giving an excuse still means your job isn’t getting done. The best answer is telling the autocrat that the job is taken care of and he doesn’t have to worry about it.

Officers always eat last.

This one’s easy. Their fun comes before your fun. If you want to go to an event to kick it with your friends and have a good time, that’s fine – just don’t volunteer to do anything. If you want to work hard to make the event succeed, then do it. If you do your job well, you’ll get to go play soon enough. Just make sure you’re eating last, as it were. Another way to think of this lesson is this: do your chores before you get to go play outside. It worked growing up, and it still works in Amtgard.

Never forget, you are an American infantryman, the best.

It may seem hard to translate this into Amtgard because we’re not actually American infantryman. Of course, that misses the point the general is trying to make, which is pride. Take pride in the work you do and it’ll show. If you’re lethargic and lazy when doing your job, you’ll do a lethargic and lazy job. On the other hand, if you do the best you can and you know you’re doing a kick-ass battle game or feast, and then prove it in front of everyone – that’s where pride will get you. Know you’re good at what you do and then carry through. That’ll get people to come back next year.

Never be without a watch, a pencil, and a notepad.

And extra food, cell phones, medical supplies, backup plans, and so on. Think about what can go wrong in the event and plan for it. Have the tools necessary to counter any emergency on hand and you’ll do fine. Half of running an event is crisis management and it’s almost always behind the scenes. Say, for example, the feast doesn’t go as planned and part of it doesn’t get served. If you’ve planned well, you’ll be able to implement a backup plan – maybe you’ll expand part of the feast – and nobody sitting down and eating will have any idea anything went wrong.

These are simple tips designed for the real world – a world of guns, soldiers, and national security. They’ve carried Colin Powell to the top through his mastery of logistics. Feasts and events aren’t a whole lot more than logistics and are certainly an order of magnitude less complex than running the United States military. If you work hard, stay prepared, offer solutions instead of excuses, and take pride in the job you perform, you can turn a bad event into a good one – and a good event into one people will remember for years.

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