Leadership and Team Management – A Theoretical Approach

Posted in NEWS on May 18, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

Nowadays, Magic is a highly organized and competitive game; its judging structure has a clearly defined hierarchy in which the management of the events or specific tasks within the events are awarded to some individuals who become ultimately responsible for those events or tasks. Considering these responsibilities, Leadership and Team Management are fundamental to the outcome of many sanctioned tournaments (mainly competitive and professional), and therefore the knowledge, both theoretical and practical, of these areas should be a primary characteristic of Magic judges.

In this article, I will try to present some theoretical aspects of leadership and team management, so that you can apply this knowledge in your events. I hope this can increase your interest in this area, serving as an introduction to the Leadership/Management topic.

So, what is Leadership?

Leadership is the ability to guide, control, direct, analyse and influence people towards an objective or result.

Dwight Eisenhower once said something like, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something because he wants to do it."

Leadership can never be considered a "permanent characteristic." It is not something that we get or don't get when we are born. That is mainly because leadership assumes two things about its "subject:" it assumes that someone wants to be a leader, and it also assumes that someone knows how to lead.

If a person doesn't want to be a leader, he will never become one; to be a leader requires willpower and knowledge. However, if someone wants to become a leader, he will have to learn by observation, study, attempts, and experience (his own experience or the experience of other leaders), what to do to lead.

Although dialogue is one of the most important tools for a leader, leadership has to manifest itself with actions and results. Nothing is achieved just by talking. Therefore, leadership should always be demonstrated through a leader's defining characteristics. A leader should be visionary, trustworthy, committed, objective, and proactive.

  • A visionary is someone who seeks and gets the information he needs from experts and from those around him. He considers both the current and the past situations (and their consequences) to make decisions. Once he has made one, he has the ability to get people involved in his "mission," establishing short-term, medium-term and long-term goals, as well as a program determining how to achieve those goals.

    Someone with no vision facing a problem will be limited to what he knows, and believes he knows all there is to know. He looks but does not listen and does not propose alternatives because he thinks he is the owner of the absolute truth, therefore nothing can go wrong. His thinking is exclusively based on his own projections and actions, looking only at the present situation (ignoring what caused that situation) and, therefore, being unable to clearly predict what is going to happen.

  • A trustworthy leader is someone whose conduct is weighted on what he thinks, wants, says and does. He believes in ethical values and cultivates his self-esteem and the self-esteem of those around him, respecting their good faith.

    On the contrary, someone who is not trustworthy usually doubts himself and those around him (is insecure about himself and everyone else) and takes advantage of their good faith. He is also inconsistent and usually hides his intentions (and some of his actions) because they go against what was previously arranged.

  • A committed leader is someone who is totally devoted to the service of the organizations he belongs to, dedicating his time, attention, effort, and resources to accomplish his responsibilities and achieve the common goals. He communicates his projects, objectives, and goals (as well as the way to get there), being consistent with his decisions and promises.

    A selfish person gives priority to his own interests without including those around him, forgetting his individual responsibilities and the responsibilities he has to the people working with him.

  • An objective leader is someone who seeks information about facts and judges only after collecting and analysing all the relevant information. He canalises his emotions to his objectives and acts according to the quantity and the quality of both his strengths and his weaknesses.

    Someone who is Subjective does not analyse all the facts, basing his decisions on rumours and suppositions.

  • A proactive leader uses his time to seek opportunities and to predict what is going to happen, preparing for all possible situations and misfortunes. This way he is able to control the events. He is someone who is always progressing (professionally) and yet he can always find the time (personal time) to do all the things he enjoys.

    Someone who is Reactive, uses his time to solve the problems (he was not able to predict them, therefore he was not ready for them), and is controlled by events. He is someone who is always late with his work and, thanks to that, he doesn't experience professional progress.

So, I presented you a leader's defining characteristics and explained what they are, but what about his "job"/tasks? What does he do exactly?

Well, basically a leader has to do two things: he has to coordinate and to develop:

  • Coordinate:

    To Plan:

    1. Set the Goals
    2. Predict
    3. Analyze problems
    4. Make decisions
    5. Make and/or support policies

    To Organize:

    1. Decide what is needed to reach the goals (step by step)
    2. Classify and distribute the tasks/work between the groups and/or individuals
  • Develop:
    To Influence:

    1. Communicate so that all individuals can contribute to reach the objectives, according to organization's goals

    To Control:

    1. To check if what was done was according to what was proposed and planed
    2. To correct possible "detours"
    3. To alter and readapt the ways and plans to reach the goals

There are essentially three types of leadership or "leadership styles", those are Authoritarian, Liberal and Democratic:

  • Authoritarian: An authoritarian leader sets directives and the way to reach the goals without the participation of the group. He is also the one who assigns the work to each individual and decides the constitution of each team. He has an essentially directive posture, giving specific instructions and letting no room for personal creativity by his subordinates. Basically, an authoritarian leadership is only focused on the tasks at hand.

  • Liberal: A liberal leader is someone who doesn't impose rules. The subordinates have total liberty to make decisions and develop their projects without consulting the leader. The group always decides who does what and with whom.

  • Democratic: A democratic leader assists and stimulates the debate between all elements of the group. In this type of leadership, it is the group that decides the way to reach the goals and the division of the tasks. There is, however, a slight dominance in the "leader's voice." The group usually asks the leader for technical support, he suggests several alternatives, and the group chooses which one to follow.

Within these three different leadership styles, each leader will choose the one which he feels is best according to his own characteristics, the goals, the characteristics of the subordinates, and the contexts in which the objectives are fulfilled. However, since leadership is a characteristic that should be shaped and practiced, each leader should choose the leadership style that brings more positive results to himself and to the people working with him.

It is also important to stress that there are no "pure styles" (there is not a frontier between the three basic styles I presented); that is, no leader has only one leadership style. What usually happens is that leaders have more characteristics of a determined style and, therefore, most of his actions are consistent with that particular style. That said, a leader can adjust his style at a determined time according to a specific project, situation, or team he has to work with.

Basically, the leadership style a leader assumes in the situations he is faced with, is often his "trademark," therefore it shouldn't be chosen lightly.

Like I said before, nothing is achieved just by talking. Nevertheless, the domain over language is a fundamental tool for a leader. It is usually by questioning and listening that leaders find the correct path towards their objectives.

When it comes to questions, we can classify them into four types: open or closed, and influent or neutral:

  • Open: These questions can't be answered with yes or no. They are elaborate answers about the topic, usually generating a great amount of useful information.

  • Closed: A simple yes or no answer is enough. Who is answering may have more information to give, but that is not demanded.

  • Neutral: Questions that do not influence the answer.

  • Influent: Questions that induce a specific answer, clearly indicating a right (or preferable) answer and a "wrong answer."

According to the objective of the question, the leader should choose the appropriate type. The most common objectives for a leader to ask questions are:

  1. To promote participation. In this case he should choose open and neutral questions.

  2. To make deals/arrangements. In this case he should choose closed and neutral questions.

  3. To lead the team in a specific direction. In this case he should choose open and influent questions.

  4. To exercise/demonstrate power. In this case he should choose closed and influent questions.

When it comes to actively listen, there are three simple steps to achieve that:

  1. Stop thinking about yourself:
    Establish eye contact and communicate your attention to the interlocutor through nonverbal language (ex: nodding you head)

  2. Stop thinking about yourself:
    Ask questions to your interlocutor to establish the fundamental points of what you're talking about

  3. Stop thinking about yourself:
    Do a summary of what the interlocutor said, using you own words and asking him to acknowledge, though a sentence like: "If I understood correctly, what you said was..."

Finally, I would like to talk a little bit about feedback. Once again, what is feedback?

Well, Feedback is every bit of information someone gives to another person about his performance.

Feedback is useful to make performance improvements, to improve morale/engagement, and also to develop yourself and people working with you. It can be classified (by someone who is giving it) as positive, negative, useful, and useless.
Usually we tend to dislike negative feedback; however we must always remember, "there is more useful data in negative feedback as there is in positive feedback." (Jack Canfield). Despite this fact, leaders have to understand that is usually difficult for some people to receive negative feedback and for some leaders to give it, so I will present a set of "rules" to give negative feedback:

  • Should always be preceded and followed by positive feedback;
  • Should specify the behaviour to be modified;
  • Should inform the subject of "the why";
  • Should have a positive objective;
  • Should be understood by the subject;
  • Should be given after thinking carefully about it;
  • Should be given only when the subject is in total control of his emotions;
  • Should never be given in front of others;
  • Should be given immediately (right after the "error," if possible);
  • Be specific, not generic;
  • Explain clearly the consequences of the error;
  • Should use only information you collected in "first hand";
  • Understanding with the subject about not repeating the same mistake;
  • "Place a stone over the matter";
  • Never say you are sorry, because nobody is guilty of having a repair to do.

To finish up, I would just like to leave you with a quote of Blaine Lee:

"The Leader who exercises power with honour will work from the inside out, starting with himself."

I hope you found this useful and not too boring. . . .

Filipe Fernandes