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4 lessons from 5 years of Officers' Quarters

Postcard showing the officers' quarters at Fort Des Moines
Every Monday, Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership. He is the author of The Guild Leader's Handbook, available from No Starch Press.

Amazingly enough, exactly five years ago today -- at 11:15 a.m. on May 7, 2007 -- the very first Officers' Quarters went live on WoW Insider. It was so long ago that I actually used Thottbot links. Since then, yours truly has composed more than 250 OQs. At about 1,000 words per column, I've written enough words on the topic of guild leadership to fill up a large fantasy novel. (Of course, I've also written an actual book on the topic.)

For this column, I briefly thought about pulling out the best and worst of OQ to share my personal favorites (and my shame) from the past five years. I decided against it. Maybe some day I'll do that -- maybe right before I hang up my WoW Insider columnist sash -- but that day is not today.

Rather, I thought I'd do something more personal. OQ has always been about learning how to do a better job as an officer and a guild leader, both for your members and yourself. During the past five years, I've done my best to give advice on exactly that.

However, I've never claimed to have it all figured out. I've also learned a lot, too. On this anniversary, I'd like to share four things that I've learned over the past five years. (Five would have been better, but I'm long-winded.)

What I've learned

1. Lead with an edge. Ironically, though my first column was about punishment, it was something I almost never did. My biggest leadership flaw (of many), when I first began to write this column, was that I lacked an edge. I was too soft on guild members. My thinking was this: We're all online to have fun, so why create a confrontation? Things will work out. Let's all just relax.

Well, when you have that attitude, you'll certainly be good at mediating conflicts -- and I was. Looking back, I also think I encouraged just as many arguments as I solved, because I let people off the hook. When you do that, things almost never get better. They usually get worse. I let guild members ruin other members' fun at times because I didn't put a decisive stop to their behavior.

You should always respect the people in your guild, but that doesn't mean you have to suffer their nonsense. The respect has to flow both ways. If players lack respect for other members or for you, you need to act firmly. That way, people actually can get back to having fun and continue to do so over the long run.

2. Loot drama isn't really a big deal. Oh, how I used to dread loot drama. It seemed like such a big deal back then. After all, I'd seen it ruin other guilds. I did everything in my power to avoid it, and when it happened, I tripped over myself to solve the problem, paranoid that it would drive people out of the guild.

I realize that this kind of drama can still be a big problem, but I just don't take it all that seriously anymore. It's probably going to happen sooner or later no matter what system you use.

Instead of fretting, just lay out clear loot policies, enforce them without exception, and let the chips fall. When people get upset, do your best to explain the system and the situation. If anyone would quit a guild with a fair loot system over one item, then you probably don't want them on your roster anyway.

3. The smartest thing you can do as an officer is to train your replacement. Over the past year, I've seen and heard about so many officers suffering from burnout. They push themselves too hard, do too much, get too little support, and ultimately, they have to step away from the game and the guild. Sometimes they come back; sometimes they don't.

You can avoid that fate. Having other active officers around you is the first step. No matter what your role is -- whether you're a raid leader, recruiter, guild leader, etc. -- make sure someone else in your guild can do your job. I can't overestimate the peace of mind that you'll have knowing that you aren't absolutely indispensable -- that you can take a break for a week or two and the guild won't fall apart.

Every officer should have a role, but every officer can also learn someone else's role, just in case. Even better, choose junior officers who can learn the roles. That way, if you do lose an officer, you already have a likely replacement. Choose an officer to be the assistant or co-guild leader and learn everything the guild leader has to do.

You'll all feel much better about your responsibilities, knowing that they aren't absolute. Plus, you'll leave the guild in much better shape if you do decide to step down.

4. You can actually control very little. If I've learned anything in the past five years, it's this: Guilds are chaos. A guild is a roiling cauldron of personalities, and the diagram of interwoven relationships among the members could choke Venn himself.

The shared histories are often long and complex: the grudges, the helping hands, the secrets and lies, the quietly joyful moments, the bitter failures and the blame, the raucous triumphs and the glory ... It all builds up over time. Then let's consider all the events and relationships that occur outside the game, for every member, like a branching fractal that cascades into infinity. These things too have a huge impact on your community.

Out of all of that, the aspects you can actually control are a tiny fraction. No matter what you do, something unexpected is eventually going to blindside you.

This discussion isn't meant to depress you but to liberate you. Stop worrying about what you can't control. Focus on the things that you can. You can recruit that direly needed healer if you keep at it. You can clean up and organize the guild bank. You can help your members to improve their awareness and take down that boss.

But you can't convince your tank's boss to switch up shifts so your tank can raid again, and you can't help it that your priest and your rogue don't want to raid together since they broke up. Adjust the best you can, and move on. Nothing that happens in Azeroth, not even the Cataclysm, is the end of the world.

Before I wrap this up, I just want to say thank you to my original leads, Elizabeth Harper and Mike Schramm, for taking a chance on this idea. Thank you to all the staff at WoW Insider for being awesome regardless of the decade. Finally, thank you to my readers who have made this column a success. You have inspired me week in and week out with your dedication and enthusiasm for MMO leadership. To all of the above, a hearty and heartfelt --

/SALUTE

Officers' Quarters keeps your guild leadership on track to cope with sticky situations such as members turned poachers or the return of an ex-guild leader and looking forward to what guilds need in Mists of Pandaria. Send your own guild-related questions and suggestions to scott@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Officers' Quarters (Guild Leadership)

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