One benefit of doing something for a long time is that you are able to cast an objective eye on how others do the same work. Observation is underrated, I think. Leadership is one of those things that you can improve on by watching others and thinking about your own choices. I was thinking about this as I started up a new game of Dragon Age: Inquisition and activated the Fair Weather Friends trial.
I don’t game a lot but I am a huge fan of Dragon Age and Skyrim. They both require interactions with other characters that impact outcomes. Dragon Age in particular incorporates an approval scheme, such that your questions and answers can improve or damage your relationships within the game.
The Fair Weather Friends trial is a test to see if you can reach a certain point of the game with all 9 companions still with you. If a companion’s approval drops too low, they can potentially leave. Fair Weather Friends doubles any disapproval, so the test requires you to moderate your behavior.
As I played through (and completed the trial!), I thought a lot about how similar this was to real life. Just as in the game, we have a wide range of communication styles to choose from. We know our employees and staff have their own motivations for being at the law library. We are trying to reach a strategic goal with all of our resources in tact. And just as in real life, you can’t just tell people “do this, go there” and expect to get to that end with your entire team intact.
They Don’t Need You
The game has 9 companions but a couple of them won’t leave no matter how poorly they think of you. There is a common saying that people don’t quit jobs, they quit their managers. As that Harvard Business Review article points out, you don’t have to be horrible to be a manager whose staff don’t stick around.
But people will stay in a job or leave it even if you are a terrible leader. Turnover can be a bad sign but it’s not definitive for whether an environment has leadership or not. A poor leader can have a stable team but they may no longer be working as hard or as creatively as they would otherwise.
I have never reached this point with any of the Dragon Age characters, but here is Cassandra – a character who will stay with the Inquisition throughout the game – when her disapproval hits its lowest point. Don’t take people for granted just because they stick around. It’s not necessarily a vote of confidence.
How you say something can be as important as the words you choose. Both things matter. In Dragon Age Inquisition, there is a conversation wheel that allows you to choose your reaction to a question or situation. And your choice may have in-game consequences. In reality, every conversation has consequences, whether to create good or bad feeling, or to reinforce good or bad feeling.
In game, you get some clues as to the likely response to a choice. One thing I like about the game is that you can, if you choose, make decisions that are perhaps true to nature but likely to backfire. It can be hard to imagine why someone would choose particularly disagreeable language, but I suppose there’s something to authenticity.
For instance, if a character has a personal goal and your response to a request for help is, “that’s YOUR problem,” you can imagine they might disapprove. Fortunately, in a game, you can do a quicksave and replay that moment.
Not so in real life. Managers and leaders are just people and they get angry and exasperated just like anyone else. But expressing that sort of negative feeling towards someone should only be done with purpose. Like anything, it takes practice to submerge unproductive communication and find the right tone for the moment.
It is important to move forward towards whatever goal your law library has set. A leader can derail a project or initiative merely by alienating the team through poor choice of words, lack of context, or the wrong tone. The solution isn’t to make everyone happy and only do things that have unanimous support. But communication can help keep a team oriented, even if the activity isn’t whatever everyone would have chosen to do.
It is important to understand what motivates your people too. And just as important to keep motivation and manipulation separate. A person’s motivation to be in a law library can help you to understand how best to use their contribution. It is important to be honest, though, if whatever motivates them is outside the scope of what the law library does. It may be better for that person to know that sooner than later, and to consider whether they are in the right role or organization.
Dragon Age characters do not have terribly complicated motivations: power, honor, history, mischief. The motivation will impact how they respond, and it will color how you interact with them. Not everyone is motivated by the same things or in the same way.
What I was struck by was how similar these are to people I’ve worked with in law libraries. The striver who is on the shortest possible career arc to a senior management role. The person who feels part of the warp and weave of history by delivering services from a historic location. Okay, no mischief makers or at least not as their primary motivation. But everyone has something that motivates them to get up every morning and come to work.
People will do things against their motivation but they’ll remember you asking them to do it. One Dragon Age character, Iron Bull, has that exact plot split. You have a choice to make that will impact your overall approach to completing the game. And Iron Bull will do as you command, but there may be repercussions later in the game.
When you understand your individual team members’ motivations, it can be easier to understand how the impact of your decisions. You may not notice your team’s engagement and erosion until long after you’ve made a decision.
My computer is pretty laggy but as the companions entered the Winter Palace, I heard the little chime that indicated the achievement had been reached. The Trial of the Lovers is the outcome of the Fair Weather Friends test. In the end, it wasn’t as hard as I expected, although on my first play through, I can see where I would have stumbled.
There was an interesting tension too, that I think plays out in real life. On the one hand, I wanted to complete the task as quickly as possible. That way, I could minimize opportunities for negative blowback. On the other, by taking a bit longer and being more strategic, I created more opportunities for positive feedback and to build support (approval).
For example, knowing that Cole likes helping people, I did pre-work on a lot of the small helpful tasks, but only completed them after he’d joined the group. In that way, the same work was being done, but his approval rose because he saw the help being given. His motivation was met.
Leading in real life isn’t a game. But we also don’t need to rely solely on our own lived experience in making decisions and learning from just our own successes and failures. One of the best things a leader can do, after listening and observing her own team, listening to and observing other leaders. Their successes and failures can provide good lessons on how to be successful yourself.