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You, Personally.
by Keith Fuller on 05/08/14 03:45:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Giving critical feedback/Having difficult conversations

Delivering praise appropriately

How to set goals (for yourself and others)

Creating an improvement plan (for underperforming team members)

Holding effective meetings

Decision making (when to collaborate, consult, delegate, or dictate)

Setting priorities (urgent vs. important)

Assessing and managing risks

Teaching team members when to ask for help

Giving junior team members a chance to learn vs. Assigning it to the Expert

Having team members operate from their strengths instead of focusing on weaknesses

Providing motivation (intrinsic vs. external; how-to’s)

Putting your own oxygen mask on first (taking care of your own physical and mental health)

Communication styles (why you can’t talk to everyone the same way)

Setting expectations (with your team, with your boss, with external parties)

Why empathy is important and how to improve it

Your own growth and learning

Making the most of relationships with your leadership peers

Managing conflicts

Accountability and responsibility (what’s the difference; how to strengthen each)


The above is a list I disseminated amongst the leaders at a client studio recently. I wanted to get a feel for where everyone thought they could improve so I put together a medium-exhaustive collection of leadership topics and asked the leaders to rate them from 0 (I have this one mastered) to 5 (PLEASE I’M BEGGING TEACH ME THIS PLEASE).

Typically, companies will claim they need no help in the area of leadership development. Many have no training or mentoring and probably just feel defensive when someone approaches them (lest *gasp* they appear less-than-perfect). Some studios, I’m happy to report, actually go to great lengths to prepare people for leadership positions and even provide ongoing training for experienced leaders.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the “Nope, we don’t need help…we’re good” mentality, it’s extremely unlikely that everyone with leadership responsibilities at a company will report that they have mastery of all 20 items in this list. If you ask them for their own assessment, they’ll tell you there are things they could improve upon…things about which they’d like to know more.

Developers deserve the best leadership. If there’s room for improvement at your company…improve.

Here are three suggestions I'd like to make:

  1. If you’re in a position that allows for polling of leaders, use the above list and run an informal survey. Copy the list straight into an email and send it to people. It won’t take you more than 5 minutes. First, tell people what you’re doing and why, though. Spontaneous surveys with no explanation – especially if you take the survey and never learn the results – can be scary or demoralizing.
  2. Before you survey your studio’s leaders, give your own ratings as to what you think your leaders need. It might prove revealing to compare your numbers on what people need versus what they think about themselves.
  3. If you’re really, really bold, pick one of these topics that you’d particularly like to know more about and list it in the comments. Which topics do you think would show up most frequently?

Even if you can’t poll anyone else – and even if you’re not a lead – rate yourself on this list. Which items would you like to know more about? And to get you to think a little more deeply…why did you rate certain items higher than others? Have you been burned on them before? Or maybe you never thought about them as leadership aspects?

What do you, personally, wish you knew more about leadership?

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Jon Solmos
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This is an excellent article that I hope more people who are in leadership roles in the game industry read and incorporate into their career growth. I believe that anyone and everyone has room for improvement when it comes to the list the author included at the beginning of this article. If more people took an honest inventory of their strengths and weaknesses related to this list it would not only help their careers and well-being but likely improve the studios health and morale.

John Flush
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Great Article. In my group I had been musing a way to train more soft skills and people tend to not even know what skills they don't realize they don't know enough about. Very applicable even outside of the gaming industry.

Keith Fuller
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It sounds like you're describing something akin to the Dunning-Kruger effect...people might not be knowledgeable/proficient enough at something to realize they aren't knowledgeable/proficient. I think it's a valid observation on your part.

Alan Barton
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“Nope, we don’t need help…we’re good”

It is my experience that this is often said by people who turn out to be insecure, because they fear they are secretly not good enough in some way. (The other kind who say it are arrogant, and they are another story).

Conversely the people who are not insecure are freely able to admit when they don't know something and when they need help.

No one knows everything and so everyone needs help at some point, but some who are either insecure or arrogant fail to admit to that. Its a good indicator for spotting problem people who do need more help to work better in a team, as both can be harmful and cause considerable stress in colleagues which can become very bad for the company and even the health of all staff around them.

Dave Bellinger
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There's a third possibility behind this mentality that you may want to consider (although it may not be the case with you personally): How they perceive your ability to help them. Too often I've worked in environments where the "Leadership Team" is unproven, and worse, doesn't see a need to become proven. This falls a bit into your 'insecurity' category, as best case scenario this type of situation is being called out in some capacity. That being said, in the real world, there's a lot of intimidation against questioning upward ability, intentional or not.

Great insight though, I liked it.

Keith Fuller
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Good point. In my line of work (selling my services as a trainer and coach) it may well be the assumption on someone's part that if I ask them about X, they tell me "We're good" simply because they don't believe I can help or don't want to pay anybody to deal with it. Unfortunately, I'll probably never know if they actually believe "we're good" or if they're just using that as an excuse to get out of the conversation.

Cesar Orbenes
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I find this article very useful, I have the lead role in my team and I am genuinely interested in getting better. As you say, developers deserve the best leadership.

Keith Fuller
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I'm glad it was valuable for you, Cesar! Thank you for the positive feedback.

Matt Manuel
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I recommend adding hiring, transferring and termination to the list. Critical skills for any leader with direct reports.

Keith Fuller
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Excellent point. And man, I don't know if I, personally, will ever feel totally comfortable with these skills. I suspect I'll always feel like I can use improvement in this area.