What Does it Take to be a Great Raid Leader?

the fact that this shadow priest is sitting in the big chair doesn't mean she's the raid leader

Leading raids is not my favorite task. I like to focus on playing and having a good time, while when in the role of raid leader I have to focus on what everyone else is doing. But somebody has to lead the raids to keep us all marching in the right direction. Which got me to thinking about what it takes to be a great raid leader.

It’s easiest to start with a list of the qualities that do not make for a great leader:

  • Unwilling to listen to feedback from others
  • Unable to objectively evaluate if the issue at hand is the strategy or the execution of the strategy
  • Not a team player in groups where they are not a leader
  • Desire to be raid leader driven by wanting to be in charge
  • Use of bullying and shouting down others to banish opposing view points
  • Prone to yelling over Vent/TeamSpeak/Mumble
  • Impatient; unclear that learning new fights takes time
  • Uncomfortable with giving constructive criticism or assigning necessary but not glamorous tasks to friends/relatives/significant others

 7 Habits of Bad Raid Leaders

  1. Yell “WIPE IT” whenever a strategy is not absolutely perfectly executed.
  2. Kick out raiders for making even tiny mistakes.
  3. Kick out the lowest DPS every half hour if you are not making progress.
  4. Force the entire raid to compensate for any areas of weakness your BFF or significant other has.
  5. Come to raids without knowing the strategy backwards and forwards (or without having it printed out and in hand to read to the team.)
  6. Change loot rules after seeing what loot has dropped or who has won it.
  7. Arbitrarily add new raid nights and change what content people are raiding and when, based upon what you feel like doing.

Raid Leaders Need to be Someone the Team Wants to Follow

The success of any team, be it in World of Warcraft or in real life, hinges upon the leader of that team earning the respect of the team, and being someone the team chooses to follow. People do not choose to follow people who rule the raid with an iron fist, belittling others and shouting down anyone who dares question — even privately– their proposed strategies or decisions. Those people are called tyrants or dictators, not chosen leaders.

So what does it take to be the kind of raid leader whose members will happily follow them to the ends of Azeroth? For starters, a good leader will:

  • Communicate clearly with the team. This includes coming to raids prepared, and with a strategy in mind. Ideally you will have shared that strategy with the team for input a few days prior to the raid. This allows folks to read it, and to ask questions or make suggestions based upon their experience and your group’s makeup. Be sure to assign specific people to specific tasks that need to be done, and ensure they are clear on what they are being asked to do.
  • Be ready to adjust strategies if they are not working as expected. That Tank Spot video you cribbed your strategy from probably doesn’t have the same class make-up or skill sets as your actual raid team; be ready to adapt as needed. This can include having to ask your friends or SO to step out if they are not fulfilling their role. This is a delicate area, for sure, but your team expects you to apply the same standards across the board.
  • Listen to team members and try to understand their POV. The fact that it is sometimes not your POV does not make it wrong. Try to understand where others are coming from. And if you don’t understand, ask questions that show you have been listening that will also help you better understand that person’s perspective.
  • Be approachable. Your team needs to feel it is OK to come to you with an issue or concern or an idea, without fear of retribution or receiving a dressing down.
  • Understand it’s not all about them. Raiding is a team effort. Yes, the raid leader herded those cats, but the glory is not all upon the raid leader’s shoulders — and likewise, neither are the disappointing defeats. Also, don’t take requests or comments personally. It’s not all about you. As an example, if someone asks you to please give them an equal dose of progression raids and farm nights, respect their request. Not everyone wants to go full tilt at progression targets every night of the week after coming home from a demanding job. This doesn’t make them a slacker. It is not a slap in your face. It is just someone else’s POV.
  • Discuss raid related issues and concerns, or strategy changes, in a professional, mature manner. On the Internet, all too often people take offense to — and wage war against– any opinion that is not in line with theirs. All I can say here is: GROW UP! In the course of your life, you are likely to meet many people who have different perspectives and opinions. They are entitled to them as you are entitled to yours. If you are incapable of being civil in discussions when you disagree with others, you are not cut out to be a leader.

I expect a lot from my raiding time. I expect to make progress against the goal of killing the boss upon whom we are working. I expect to have a good time, in a positive social atmosphere. I expect to have a sense of accomplishment and excitement when we kill a boss for the first time. I expect to feel like a valued and important member of a team. And if I don’t feel this way, I eventually lose interest in raiding with that team. The raid leader sets the tone of the raid and the standard of behavior for the team. Having a positive raid leader, who strives to be the kind of leader others want to follow is key to making these expectations come true. You know how it’s said that people don’t quit their job, they quit their boss? That’s frequently the case with raids too.

Food for thought. And this gives me a homework assignment: think through what a volunteer job description would be for an ideal raid leader.

12 thoughts on “What Does it Take to be a Great Raid Leader?”

  1. Sounds like you’ve had some recent bad experiences with raid leaders lately! I found it interesting that you painted one type of ineffective raid leader (the egomaniac) but didn’t mention the other extreme: the pushover raid leader who can’t keep control of the raid. I actually get more frustrated with pushovers since egomaniacs usually shut up when I yell back at them.
    Great advice for new raid leaders though. And great reminder for current leaders!
    As for volunteer jobs like raid leading, a commenter on my blog once compared raiding to a convention, with the raid leaders being convention planners. I liked the image.

  2. Oh yes the pushover raid leader. He was the one who made the entire raid compensate for the tank who couldn’t stance dance back in the day. He only got a minor mention, but agree it can be infuriating to be stuck with that raid leader too. The Egomaniacs are just more fun to talk about!
    I like the idea of the raid leader being the meeting planner for the raid convention.

  3. I agree, there is a lot more to leading a successful raid than taking down bosses. The best raid leaders can balance knowing the strats and how they want them implemented with communicating with the raid and sharing information (both ways!) in a constructive manner. No one wants to be stuck in the raid where you wipe over and over because they won’t listen to alternate ideas, but what is just as bad is when the “leader” comes completely unprepared and leaves it up to the loudest voices in the raid to duke it out. That’s a hotbed for dramas, and I had to stop raiding in a friend’s guild because of this recently.
    I have been really impressed with my alli guild and how our raid leader always sets the tone as professional yet fun, and though he has done the homework himself, is always willing to listen to new ideas. Even if we don’t take a boss down, I still have a good time. Novel, I know. Hats off to the good ones, its a dirty job.

  4. I think raid leading really is an unthankful job (unless you count the bosses downed) because while everyone in the raid buckles down no one ever really thanks the raid leader for getting us there. Maybe we should all make an effort to say thanks 😉 (To the good ones, mind you!)
    A good raid leader puts in the effort to get their team where it needs go to and does all the research necessary. While we’re all there doing the boss and learning the ropes the raid leader has done all of that work before hand.
    I do agree with your points though, you can’t have your RL depend too much on friends, SOs etc. but they need to look at what’s best for the raid and go with that.
    The yelling is a big no-no for me. I hate it when people yell at me and I often can’t help yelling back (my raid leader says this is my greatest flaw.. I think he’s just not used to people doing that *grins* but yeah.. I shouldn’t yell back so much probably *lol*) At the same time I’ve heard other people say that if the RL doesn’t yell it’s not a “real” raid.
    Personally, I rather do without the yelling 🙂

  5. I am a firm believer that a yelling raid leader does not get better results than a passionate yet calm, indoor voice using raid leader.
    And I second your motion to go out and give a big public THANK YOU! to a good raid leader today to make sure they know they are appreciated.

  6. It is definitely my least favorite thing to do ever to be in a raid wherein the loudest voice or biggest bully gets their way. I’m not in elementary school; I don’t want to play in an environment that resembles it.

  7. I would add.
    *Be ready to make the decisions nobody wants to make.
    I was once in a guild with an A and B 10 man raid teams (back in Ulduar time), with an abysmal performance difference. Since I was relatively new in the guild, I was in none of this teams, so I decided to get my own team going. After discussing it with the GM, he suggested me to take charge of the B-team, which had low to zero success.
    After 1 or 2 runs, the problem with the B-team was obvious (as it was to everyone).
    1. Late start, because of raiders not showing in time, or showing unprepared.
    2. Multiple AFK’s during the raid.
    3. Low consistency of raiders. There was a lot of no-shows during the week.
    4. A couple of low performers, including a tank with no tank sense.
    After a shock therapy, which included:
    – Changing the tank.
    – Setting a break time, so AFK’s would dissapear, or stay at a minimum.
    – Non consistent raiders and those that showed late (consistently) were removed.
    …the so called B-team matched the performance of the A-team and started to progress.

  8. Guild leaders are like politicians. If you have a desire to be one you should automacticaly be banned from ever becoming one. The craving for power and control are not character traits you want in someone leading a nation or a guild. The problem is that if the guild leader is the most single minded, totally obsessed, fiercely determined member of your guild then they cannot empathise with the rest of their team mates.
    I’ve seen it so many times, where the guild leader forgets that the vast majority of us come here to relax and have fun. We get stress all day at work. We are surrounded by formality and rules. We might even get it in the neck from the missus when we get home. Those few hours we get to play WoW are precious and we want to enjoy them. We’re really sorry if you have no life and make WoW the Black Hole around which your world revolves but YOU ARE NOT A TYPICAL RAIDER! And we are not your glorified hunters pet. You don’t point us in a particular direction and press KILL. We do not want to hear your rantings when things don’t go just the way you planned. We don’t want every single mistake we make paraded out in front of the whole guild. We want our guild to be a democracy not a dictatorship. We want to have a say in the decisions made and more than anything we want it to be fun.
    I don’t mind someone /w me to tell me I should have interrupted a certain spell or even having a chat on vent about it. If I’m the only one continually dying then I will want to know why. But if you are doing raid progression and everyone is wiping then you just have to understand that we learn by mistakes and that an effective kill strategy ’evolves’. If you die at a certain point in the raid, next attempt you try something different. If you survive you keep it as part of your strategy, if not you try something else. No amount of lecturing, research, watching videos will ever replace this process because every single one of the 10/25 people in the raid see things from a different point of view. Everything they do may depend on the actions of any one of the other 9/24 members so it’s impossible to write a script for a boss kill. It has to evolve from the chaos of all these complex individuals all interacting together.
    If you understand and except that then even raid progression can be fun. If not then don’t start a damn guild. Go invade a country or something but leave us to enjoy our raiding.

  9. Oh, definitely. I don’t think you get any better results by yelling – this is a big discussion between me and our GM/RL. So far in Cataclysm he’s not yelled once though, so maybe I’m getting through to him 😉 /fingers crossed

  10. I think if your top priority objective is to be BFFs with everyone, then raid leading is not a good job for you. Because as you noted, sometimes hard decisions– such as cutting a player you like but whom can’t perform their role– have to be made.

  11. I love your first line here (and am happy to see you posted this in your blog too.)
    It has also been my experience that those folks who aggressively pursue getting promoted to the raid leader role are often after wanting to be the person in charge, and can go mad with the power. See also the type of raid leader that makes me stop wanting to raid with the team…

  12. There’s a fair bit of HR Manager in them too, though I’m lucky that I have my Recruitment Officer also doing a lot of that role.
    I’ve found that a good way to motivate team members is to tell them how much you think they’re capable of at the start of fights. Then if necessary, at the end of a wipe, ask the person in the place where it all went wrong what happened. Its a slightly guilty trick, but if you seem a bit disappointed in them, they work harder to pick it up, so you’re not disappointed again. That said, you have to be very excited and congratulatory when things go right, so that they don’t just feel like the red-headed stepchild who can never get things right.
    It saves the yelling when people just slack off because they don’t care.
    On the dictatorship vs the democracy, I disagree during raids. In the guild’s direction, and policies, definitely, but inside the raid, you can’t run by democracy because you need to make snap decisions and have people follow them. Take opinions and suggestions, listen to criticisms and take them on board, but at the end of the day, if you say something mid fight, you need it to be followed without argument.

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