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Leadership in Amtgard
[06/20/2005] [Lord Muerte]

There have been articles written for the e-Sam public that have to do with why someone should want to be in a leadership position, or what they should accomplish while there. Very few articles, however, deal with how to be an effective leader.

What is leadership? Leadership is the ability to get work done with and through others while simultaneously winning their respect, confidence, loyalty,and willing cooperation. Effective leadership is all about getting positive results from people by using influence in positive ways. These two thoughts are as good as any at defining what leadership is.

There are many myths about what leadership is, and what leadership is not. And while there are more myths about leaders and leadership, these are the ones most likely to affect us in the Amtgard community.

Myth 1- The leader controls, directs, prods, and manipulates.

This is a dangerous myth. Leadership is not so much the exercising of power itself, but the ability to empower others. That is to say, it is the ability to lead others to a goal by pulling (not pushing), inspiring (not commanding). Often, organizations are over-managed and under-led. Managers may command, order, use intimidation of position, and use the stick and carrot approach (beat you with a stick until you do it right, then give you a carrot). Leaders use different tools, which we shall discuss later.

“Leaders who do not learn to serve produce organizations that do not learn to serve.” - Charles Garfield.

Myth 2- Leaders are charismatic.

Some people are automatically “charismatic”. But that does not mean that only those people can be leaders. Charisma is just as often the result of effective leadership- the ability to articulate the needs of a group of people well.

Myth 3- It is immoral to seek power.

We hear this one a lot in Amtgard. Remember that power is neutral until it is used. Power is energy, a means to an end. It, in and of itself, is not evil. Confusing power for control causes people to reject power (consciously or unconsciously), and to avoid situations where they might have to use power in a position of leadership.

We will discuss leaders at length, but a short overview of what a manager is as opposed to a leader should help to clarify the difference between managing and leading. In addition to managerial traits discussed in Myth 1, a manager is detail-oriented to the point of exclusion. They do not need to dwell on a larger picture; results are the key to a manager. Managing is easily used in a process with a high-task structure-something that just requires doing, with not much thought. Amtgard however, has a low-task structure and is not well-suited to managing.

"Managers are people who do things right, and leaders are those who do the right thing.”- Warren G. Bennis and Burt Nanus.

What it is, what it isn’t

Leadership has been studied for a long time, being of interest to anyone who wishes to have a group or organization that runs smoothly. Many studies tried to define the exact traits found in good leaders. But to review the sources reveals that not every trait is found in every leader, and that every leader is not necessarily a good leader in every situation. Nevertheless, there were some traits found that, all things being equal, raised a person’s chance of success at being an effective leader. These include:

Being goal oriented
Willing to take risks on new and untried ventures
Self confidence (this can be hard for a new leader)
Tolerance of stress and frustration
Capability of influencing others

There are also traits that, all things being equal, tended to get people passed over for leadership positions:

Uninformed about important group issues
Very low participation- very little group interaction
Very rigid thinker

Now we’ve defined leadership (what it is, what it isn’t), and things that help a person in a leadership position. That done, let us examine factors that affect leadership success. The 3 major ones are:

Expectations or assumptions about human behavior
Leader’s power
Nature of the task at hand/leader’s style (these are tied together)

1. What you expect is what you get.

The theory of what you expect is what you get is commonly referred to as the X-Y theory. X represents those who do not expect much of people. They feel that people aren’t ambitious, creative, have little desire for responsibility, and must be controlled, coerced, and directed to get anything done. Y represents the opposite of X. Y represents an outlook that people can be self-directed and creative if it is encouraged and rewarded.

Though Theory Y is not always held up by the people in question (people are fallible), it has been shown to be a good leadership approach. Take the case of a famous experiment on school teachers. The teachers were told that several of the students in their classes were exceptionally intelligent and had very high aptitudes. The students weren’t informed of this, and were, in fact, chosen at random by the researchers- they were not possessed of any unusual abilities. After the classes’ completion, the students marked out as “gifted” had scored significantly higher than their peers in all measures of achievement. The researches created the expectation of higher abilities in the minds of the teachers. When the teachers were informed of the experiment, they were shocked. No one thought they had given the “gifted” kids any special treatment.

Though it’s not fully understood exactly what forces interact to create this “self-fulfilling prophecy”, it does have noticeable effects. And knowing that it does exist should temper how we act towards those we find ourselves leading.

“I’ll tell you what makes a great manager: a great manager has a knack for making ballplayers think they are better than they think they are. He forces you to have a good opinion of yourself. He lets you know he believes in you. He makes you get more out of yourself. And once you learn how good you really are, you never settle for playing anything less than your very best.”- Reggie Jackson

Though Mr.Jackson is talking about ‘managers’, he is referring to baseball managers. These individuals act more as leaders to their teams than do, say, the owners, who act as managers in the sense of the word for our purposes.

2. Power of persuasion.

There are two types of power for leaders- Positional and Personal power.

Positional power is authority based on rank or a position held. It is given to the individual by the organization.

“The weaker a man in authority... the stronger his insistence that all his privileges be acknowledged.”- Austin O’Malley

Personal power is that authority which is based on the perceptions of others. It is not and cannot be given by the organization.

“In a productive work community, leaders are not commanders and controllers, bosses and big shots. They are servers and supporters, partners and providers.”- James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Postner

So, it should be obvious enough that one type of power is given, while the other is earned. Though one may have positional power, there may still be a lack of personal power. The power of office does not mean people have to respect you, though. Additionally, though a person may have a low position, people may attend to their words with consideration. They have a high personal power, and a low positional power. Positional power is limited to the rank held or the position filled. It will not grow except by attaining higher office or rank. Personal power will grow as people continue to see it exercised well.

It is important to observe that successful leaders use positional power very sparingly. “Do it because I said so,” can breed resentment when it’s overused. The use of personal power, however, sends a different message. “Do it because you respect my judgment and experience to make an informed decision,” says worlds more than “Just do it” (overpriced foot and sportswear excluded).

3. The nature of the beast and how to tame it.

Tasks can vary in the day-to-day world from putting a doohickey on a sprocket eight hours a day, to devising new ways to market toothpaste to goat people. These types of tasks are said to range from high task-structure to low task-structure. A high-task structured activity involves a lot of repetitive steps, not requiring much thought or needing much variation. A low-task structured activity may not have any set steps as it may be a completely new venture. It needs more flexibility and openness to achieve as it may change often and easily. Almost all of Amtgard is a low-task structured environment.

Hand in hand with the nature of the task is the style of leadership. For ease of simplification, we will consider 4 main styles ofleadership. These are:

Autocratic / Telling
Consultative / Selling
Laissez-Faire / Delegating

Autocratic/Telling - This style of leadership involves a leader telling others what to do. They make the decisions, and don’t allow much input for followers. It works for a high task-structured environment. It also wokrs if there is not much room for variation in how the task is handled; there is little need for input from others.

A good example for this situation would be the matter of running an Althing. The chancellor pretty much follows a set procedure - calls the meeting to order, reads old business, new business, recognizes speakers, etc. Or, in a battlegame/fighting situation, there often isn’t room or time to have a conference about which people should wheel right to face an enemy. This is a situation where as captain or leader you would tell somebody what to do, and to do it in a hurry. Certain times and instances call for being an authoritative, even autocratic leader. The prudent leader recognizes when those times arise, and when other methods are more useful.

Consultative/Selling - This style of leadership is marked by a leader who seeks input from those looking to them for leadership, and then makes the call themselves. Or, it is demonstrated by a leader who explains why the processis being done in a certain way. This leadership style is still high in leader-driven decisiveness. However, it allows for some follower participation and input, and has room for explaining to other the reasons for actions.

An example might include teaching a newbie how to fight. You tell them which end of the sword to hold. You explain what hits count and why we don’t hit people in the head. And if you show them a move they can’t do (it hurts my wrist), you take that input into your decision (here, modify your stance). A leader might also use this method when handing out a punishment. You explain what you’re doing, listen to the offender’s side of the situation, and then make the decision.

Participative - This style of leadership involves less telling, and more asking. There is a higher level of participation from the followers in the decision-making process. A leader in this case seeks input and may incorporate that into their plan or modify their plan to better suit a more useful idea. This style of leading also marks a trend towards a lower task-structure.

The types of activities that might benefit from a participative style can include: How do people want to run a tourney? How should the categories be set up for a particular A&S competition? What kind of event would the group like to run? These activities allow for a lot of leeway in how they are orchestrated. As such, ideas and information from followers can help turn a leader’sidea (I want to run a tournament next weekend) into a more solid and viable plan (We’re having a tournament with three weapons categories, Round-Robin style, the weekend after next since the coming one is a holiday).

Laissez-Faire/Delegating - This style of leadership is best used when there is a very low task-structure goal to be accomplished and/or there are experienced or capable people to handle the job. There is little, if any, telling people what to do. This style is characterized by a leader who points followers in the right direction and lets them run with the idea. That is not to say that a leader is not there to provide feedback to keep followers on course. They can come to that leader for something, but mostly, the leader will stay out of their way.

Good cases of delegation or hands-off approaches are things like “Crats”. Autocrats are given authority to run anevent by the leaders of a group. In turn, War-o-crats and Feast-o-crats are given dominion over their areas. The War-o-crat will have to check with the Autocrat here and there for things like scheduling or space available, but for the most part will run the fighting. These people are given authority to run these aspects of the event, while reporting to the higher echelons of leaders to make the event run smoothly.

* * *

Leadership is an easy thing to define. Much harder is defining the exact qualities of a good leader. It is the aim of this article to at least give the reader an idea of some components of leadership. Being a leader is a daunting task, especially for those who may never have had the opportunity to lead anything, much less other people in an organization as big as Amtgard. But to understand some principles of leadership is to help remove that daunting edifice and replace it with surmountable steps to being a good leader. No model can predict every situation (no matter what the inventor of said model says). But it is hoped this article can help guide people to making those decisions and actions that will mark them out as leaders.

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