Thursday, May 22, 2014

GDC2014: Become a Better Leader

First off, a huge thanks to everyone who attended the Art Leadership Roundtable at GDC in March.  Each year, I am amazed by the level of attendance and participation.  You all make it look easy; I only wish we had more time together.

That said, I know some of you are eagerly awaiting my notes.  None of the individual day's notes are compiled yet.  It's been a struggle to get motivated to type them up.  However, I wanted to post about one of our shortest, but most practical topics:

How to Become a Better Leader

I posed this question to the audience with the intent of finding a few core philosophies as well as practical materials one could review in their endeavor to become a better leader.  Here is what was proposed in a span of ~10 minutes.  I changed the order listed to flow more naturally in written form.  In addition, I've added my own thoughts where I felt appropriate.

  • Learn to become mindful of people.  This is pretty critical, but frequently underestimated.  Being mindful of others is more than just listening.  It's about observing.  It's about how "present" you must be in a conversation -- especially one-on-one's.  That mindfulness also needs to translate to one's self.  I haven't read many good books on this topic, but I do recommend the Manager Tools podcast for more insight into this topic.
  • Trust the Team.  This is obvious.  Most leaders do (or at least should) trust their team  However, there are lots of things a manager can do to unintentionally signal a lack of trust -- frequent fly-by, task obsession, group criticism via email, micromanaging how people do their work, withholding information.  Related to the first point, you have to mindful of how your words and actions impact the trust between yourself and the team.
  • Create transparency.  This relates to the point on trust above.  If your team sees a lot of closed-door meetings and only hear information after a decision is made, then they will become disconnected from the team's effort.
  • Communicating ownership.  Sharing ownership is great and is key to helping others feel invested in their work.  At the same time, it's equally important to clearly identify the ultimate authority behind an effort.  This is important so that others can discern the difference between direction and commentary.
  • Hierarchy is not a communication structure.  This has been discussed in greater detail at past roundtables.  Related to the point above, hierarchy is helpful when deciding who has "final say" to resolve conflicting opinions.  But, other than that, hierarchy should never be used to define communication channels.  Effective communication flows in all directions at all times and is not limited by titles.
  • Active mentorship of others.  Teach.  Seriously.  There are people who want to get to where you are.  They want your job.  Rather than being insecure about this fact, teach what you know.  Only by back-filling your current spot can you hope to free yourself to doing something even greater.
  • Learn how others operate.  That's the other side of mentorship, but equally valid.
  • Someone was also kind enough to suggest that attending more roundtables like this one is also helpful
  • "How to Destroy a Game" - This was a reference to a session devoted to hard-learned lessons from earlier.  I'll write more about that in a later post.  However, the point here is that learning can be achieved simply by sharing personal experiences.
  • Fail.  As above, we can't learn except through mistakes and failure.  And we, as a community, can't learn except through sharing our mistakes and what they taught us.
  •  Emotional management.  I don't recall the context for this particular phrase, but I'm interpreting it as similar to mindfulness.  Of others and of self.
  • Solutions are more important than problems.  In game development (or any creative enterprise), it is very easy to point out the problems.  Finding reasonable and practical solutions requires a much more mature mindset and a sophisticated approach to working through the team to resolve the problems that may arise.
  • Have a side project.  I think this is especially critical for creative development.  Not only does a side project keep your skills sharp, but it also challenges you in different ways.  Workflows that might have otherwise eluded you, may become apparent when you try doing something completely unrelated to your current assignment.
In addition, a number of books were called out as resources to learn some of these key philosophies and to further build upon your understanding: . 

Lastly, the single recommendation: Practice.  Ultimately, you have to be willing to learn and then apply what you have learned.  Then, learn from your application.  Perfect practice makes perfect.

1 comment:

  1. Keith, thanks for posting these notes. Very useful to start applying the knowledge gained from your round tables. Looking forward to the rest!