Leadership and Judging

Posted in NEWS on January 7, 2001

By Wizards of the Coast

A method for becoming a more effective Head Judge

Paul Barclay

At tournaments, there are two distinct styles of Head Judge and Senior Judge - the Commander and the Leader. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses and can be useful in various situations. A simple comparison is that the Commander sees himself as distinctly above the judging staff, while the Leader sees herself as a judge with additional responsibilities. The Commander uses a large amount of his authority when dealing with the judges. The Leader has little or no need for this authority under normal circumstances, as the judges will follow her example.

The easiest way to determine which style a person falls into is to watch them at a tournament. A Commander will spend a significant amount of time doing things that the judges are not doing. You'll rarely see him handing out result slips, walking around the floor or picking up rubbish. From this point of view, time is more efficiently spent doing more important tasks, such as organisation and planning. Leaders will spend more time performing actions very similar to those of the general judging staff. Handing out result slips, walking the floor and picking up rubbish are important to her for the same reason that they are not important for the Commander to do - the example that is set means that more work and better work is done.

The basic tasks in running a tournament will remain the same whether you are a Commander or a Leader. You will still have to perform planning, assess penalties and deal with problem players. It is even sometimes necessary to use some of the techniques of the Commander even when being a Leader. This is especially true at very large events, where it is not always possible for the Head Judge to have direct and constant contact with all the judges, and tasks need to be planned in detail to ensure nothing is forgotten. What is important to remember is that these techniques should be used from the point of view of the Leader, rather than the point of view of the Commander. The overall style should always be to ask and persuade instead of demanding and telling.

The role of Head Judge tends to naturally move people towards being the Commander, as this is the simplest way for many people to deal with the issues that the role poses. For most people, it is easier to perform as a Commander than as a Leader. My view is that the opposite needs to happen. Head Judges should strive to be as close to the Leader as possible. This style will produce much better results at tournaments, and will make the judges, staff and players feel much better. This article is written from that point of view and the aim is to give judges hints and tips on how to become a Leader. If the text becomes a little heavy, feel free to skip to the bottom to the section titled "How to Become a Leader".


The main characteristic of this style is delegation. A large part of the workload is planning and organising, which is generally done with little consultation with other judges. He will be close to, but clearly superior to, the Senior Judges and most of the dealings with the judges will be through them.

Workloads are uneven, and depend primarily on the level of delegation and the amount of control taken over the tasks that are delegated. Multiple tasks will often be postponed and either performed sequentially or delegated. The workload of the judges depends on the level of delegation, but the amount of work that they actually do depends on their level of motivation. A good Commander with a well-balanced group of judges can match judges to tasks that they want to do, increasing the motivation of the judges to do a good job. However, this combination is incredibly rare.

A group of judges is usually anything but well balanced. They're generally all of above average intelligence, and so are more likely to like "interesting" tasks than routine, dull, actions. Therefore, it's almost always impossible to match judges to all the tasks at a tournament. Some people will be told to do things that they don't want to do, which will serve to de-motivate them.

There is rarely much involvement of the judges in decision making. Decisions are made, then passed down to the people who they affect. Rather than working with a judge on a ruling, the Commander is more likely to overrule decisions that have already been made by judges. Both of these actions serve to demotivate the judges. The first makes judges think that their opinions are not worth listening to and that the Head Judge does not understand the issues that judges face. The second strips away self-esteem and self-confidence, especially if the overruling is done in front of other judges and players.

The Commander is supported by the judges, working behind the judges and alongside the staff. He is remote from judges and players, working by delegation and commands. This method of working is very efficient in terms of work for the Head Judge, but this does not reflect the real level of efficiency of the event. Doing a good job in this mode will generate discord and discontent in the judges. Unhappy people generally do less and worse work, so the overall quality may actually be lower than it could be otherwise.


The main characteristic of this style is leading by example. She will support the judges and will expect to be supported by the staff. This means that the majority of the work will be done out on the tournament floor, even jobs such as planning and organisation, which will be done in consultation with other judges. She will be close to all the judges, and will deal with all of them. The Senior Judges will generally be encouraged to use similar methods and to take the initiative whenever possible, so the boundaries between teams can be a little blurred.

Workload is constantly high and there are always things that can be done to add to it. There is a strong requirement for multitasking for an effective performance. The workload of the judges primarily depends on how much work the judges want to do, which depends in turn on how well the Leader can motivate them. This is exactly what the Leader aims to do.

By working closely with the judges and players and working by example and requests, the judges are made to feel very much needed and a useful part of the team. Praise and other recognition of good work and good decisions will also help, and will create more good work and good decisions. The more valued and important the judges feel, the more chance that they will start to do tasks on their own initiative, making the event run even more smoothly.

She will involve staff in decision making as much as possible. The final decision will be made by group consensus, with the Leader chairing the group. When dealing with decisions made by staff, she is much more likely to help people get the right answer first time than to correct them once they've made an incorrect answer. Again, the Senior Judges become much more likely to follow this example.

The Leader supports the judges, working on the front line with the judges, and supported by the staff. She is as close to the judges and players as possible, and will make every possible effort to make herself available any time it is necessary. This is a less efficient style in terms of work for the Head Judge, but this does not reflect the real level of efficiency of the event. The same amount of work must be performed for each case, but the work each person does varies slightly. Performing a good job in this mode will promote harmony and happiness in the judges. Happy people are often willing to do more and better work, so the overall quality may well be much higher than the quality that a Commander could produce.

Other Issues

Personal maintenance

For the Commander, personal maintenance will happen naturally in slow periods of the day. He has many more opportunities for rest, and the work is less physically tiring due to the habit of sitting behind the judge station. This makes the work sustainable for long periods of time. Judge management will allow for scheduled breaks. The breaks are generally planned, either at the Senior Judge level or team by team. The Leader requires more breaks - to rest feet, eat enough food and relax. If this is not done, her performance will visibly suffer. In multi-day events, the job carries on into the evenings - making sure that the staff are happy and keeping the friendly rapport going. She must encourage her judges to take breaks, as they will probably follow her example. Planning is not essential, but the Senior Judges must control the breaks and ensure that they are actually taken.


If the Commander performs team composition, it will be done with the minimum of consultation with the judges and senior judges. It may be planned long in advance of the event and the judges will simply be informed of the team assignments. Work will be rigidly structured, across teams with different responsibilities. Teams will probably be rotated, but will have little or no input into this rotation, or the team composition. Judges who stray from their areas into other areas usually indicate that the command structure is not working correctly.

If the Leader does team composition, it will usually be done with at least the Senior Judges and probably with some consultation with the other judges to obtain a balance of skills across the teams. The teams will be rotated through different tournament tasks in a simple way, but it will not be uncommon to find team members deliberately in other areas, covering for busy or resting judges. An area completely devoid of judges is the indication that the leadership structure is not working correctly.

Having a Commander-style Senior Judge under a Leader-style Head Judge is very difficult to deal with. The Senior Judge will see the actions of the Head Judge as stepping into his sphere of responsibility. The judges will receive conflicting instructions and conflicting help from the senior staff. These differences must be carefully managed and a compromise needs to be agreed, reflecting the differences in working styles. Having a Leader-style Senior Judge under a Commander-style Head Judge is significantly easier. The Senior Judge will work much more distantly from the Head Judge than the other Senior Judges, and much more closely with the judging staff and other Senior Judges. As the Head Judge has relatively little contact with the judges, there is little risk of conflicting instructions.


The subject of motivation has been touched on briefly already It is a useful tool if applied correctly, and a large problem if it is ignored or applied incorrectly. Different people require different styles of motivation, and the Leader and Commander each provide a very different style of motivation. To support the arguments I've presented, I've included overviews of three theories. These theories may help to provide some background on the issues dealt with in this article. The first (Redding's characteristics) briefly describes the Leader. The second (Herzberg's Hygiene-Motivation theory) explains how ordinary factors can prevent dissatisfaction, but only extraordinary factors can provide motivation. The third (McGregor's Theory X/Y) describes how different people respond to different methods of supervision, authority and working culture.

1. Redding's characteristics of effective supervisors

This is a very simple set of characteristics that many effective supervisors will share. It follows the description of the Leader very closely.

  • Communication minded
  • Willing, empathic listeners
  • "Asks" and "persuades" instead of demanding and telling
  • Sensitive to others' feelings
  • More open in passing along information

2. Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene theory

The Hygiene-Motivation theory is complicated, and is too large to present more than a passing glance at it. It explains that there is no direct link between motivation and demotivation - indeed, it is possible for both to be true of a person at the same time. However, the effects of demotivation will serve to wipe out any advantages gained by the motivation. The factors that motivate people are completely different from the demotivating factors. While several of the motivating factors are independent of the Leader or Commander style, the hygiene factors are much more noticeable in the Commander role, especially supervision, administration and status. Responsibility and recognition are more normally factors related to the Leader's role.

Hygiene (dissatisfiers): Motivators (satisfiers):
Administration Achievement
Salary Recognition
Job Security The work itself
Work conditions Advancement
Personal life Responsibility
Status Potential for personal growth
Interpersonal relations (Supervision, dealings with peers and subordinates)  

3. McGregor's Theory "X" and Theory "Y"

The phrase "generation X" has been used frequently to describe lazy and idle teenagers. It came from one half of a theory by Douglas McGregor, "Theory X and Y". "X" proposes that people are fundamentally opposed to work and that they must be forced to work, or have some overriding requirement to work (for example, going hungry otherwise). They must be controlled and will perform the minimum amount of work possible. "X" people are not interested in assuming responsibility and are motivated by fear and money only. "Y" takes an alternative viewpoint that people are not by nature lazy and unreliable. People can be self directed and creative at work if properly motivated. It is essential to create an environment and culture where people can display this behaviour.

Both these types of people do exist in real life. However, the vast majority of judges fall under theory Y (maybe as many as 95%), due to the selection and self-selection methods employed and taken advantage of by the DCI. "X" people don't volunteer for work, so they will naturally exclude themselves from judging. Some will drift into judging through other channels, but most are from theory Y.

An important additional factor is that people will act as if they are in different categories depending on which category their manager thinks they belong to. If a manager assumes that people are following theory X, then they are much more likely to actually follow theory X. The Commander and the Leader work in very different ways, and this is reflected here. The Commander will act on the assumptions that judges need control and supervision, which are the defining factors of theory X. His actions will push the judges towards this end of the spectrum, and the work done will be less and of a lower standard. The Leader will automatically create an environment for self-motivated work, pushing the judges towards theory Y. This will increase the amount and the quality of the work done.

How to Become a Leader

It's clear that there can be considerable advantages to working as a Leader, so it's now important to explain how people can become a Leader or become a better Leader. There are very few people who have all the attributes and skills that are necessary to be the perfect leader, but most judges will be able to go a long way towards that goal, learning new skills along the way.

There is a distinct set of traits and characteristics that a Leader will possess. The list in the table below is not comprehensive - it is intended as a "how to do this" guide, rather than a textbook. It's split up into "necessary" and "helpful" traits. All of the traits have a related natural advantage - if you naturally have this skill, you'll do much better when applying the trait to judging. If you don't have this skill, you'll have to work harder to achieve the necessary results.

I'm not going to go through the different traits and advantages in great detail - most have been described elsewhere in this text, and the rest are reasonably self-explanatory. One advantage that does deserve more explanation is "Leadership". This is the classical view of the leader - jumping first out of the trenches and leading the charge across the battlefield. It's not the same as actually being a true Leader - many more skills are required as the table shows.

Necessary traits

What to do Natural Advantages
Always have several answers for every problem. Intelligence and resourcefulness
Never ask anyone to do a job you wouldn't do. "Leadership"
Ask and persuade instead of demanding and telling. "Leadership", Charisma
Act only as senior as you need to be at any one time. Self-awareness
Obtain buy-in on decisions from those involved by using group decision making. Persuasion and communication skills
Know your limits for both skills and physical limits. Don't try to do too much. Self-awareness
Don't sit behind the desk unless you're talking to the scorekeeper. Your focal point should remain in the middle of the playing area. Energy and drive

Helpful traits

What to do Natural Advantages
Build up the respect of players and judges. Age, calm temperament, judging skill
Take regular breaks. Willpower, self-awareness
Be more than just accessible - go looking to talk to people. Energy, drive
Build up a social relationship with the staff and judges. Friendliness, Charisma
Positive encouragement by praising judges in front of others, rather than criticism. Help judges with their problems, rather than punishing and excluding them. Human Resources skills
Be easy to spot. Use a red and black or black and white judge shirt. Make sure that all the players and all the judges know what you look like. Height, bright blue hair