It occurred to me today that leading a clan is a lot like leading a team at work. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the same set of leadership principles can be applied both at work and at play. This post is my attempt to explain why.
A quick disclaimer: while I’ve tried to make this post useful even for non-players, you’ll get a lot more value out of this if you have a basic understanding of the game’s mechanics.
1. Set a high and relevant hurdle for entry
Great clans are built by great members. Don’t let mediocre players into your clan.
To join my clan, prospective members must be Level 70+ and have at least one hundred million in Gold Grab.
We use Gold Grab as an entry hurdle in addition to player level because we’re only interested in clanmates who play seriously. A player’s level alone is not a sufficient gauge of skill and activity because levels can be bought by spending real money (a.k.a. “gemming”). Gold grab is earned the hard way — one raid at a time.
The same principle applies at work. If you want a great team, you need to (a) set a sufficiently high hurdle for entry; and (b) select a hurdle that is a relevant proxy for assessing the new recruit’s experience and future performance. Using the wrong hurdle will saddle you with poor hiring choices.
2. Set clear expectations for behavior and performance
Every clan has rules. Make sure each clan member understands yours.
Every clan has its own set of rules that members are expected to live by. As a clan leader, you must explain these rules to each new recruit as they come in because the rules are needed to keep a clan healthy.
Most clans have rules to cover troop donations, allowed language and topics (e.g., PG-rated chat for clans with young members), and war participation (e.g., players must opt out of war if heroes or spell factory are upgrading).
Leaders must also be prepared to remove players who fail to play by the rules, otherwise chaos will reign and members of good standing will leave the clan.
The same principle applies at work. Your team members need to know what’s expected of them and, as team leader, you must invest the time and resources to communicate these expectations clearly to each new member (e.g., through onboarding). You also have the unpleasant but critical duty of dealing with poor performers. As harsh as this may sound, a failure to address poor performance is a failure of leadership.
3. Define the criteria for promotion
Clan members will work towards promotions if they know how to earn them.
Clan leaders can promote specific individuals to the rank of Elder or Co-leader. Each rank comes with extra powers. For example, an Elder can remove a Member from the clan while a Co-leader can demote an Elder back to the rank of Member.
Promotions do not happen automatically; each promotion must be initiated by the clan Leader. Unfortunately, some Leaders set vague requirements — for example, “you’ll be promoted when you’ve demonstrated your loyalty” without saying how such loyalty is assessed.
Clan members are more likely to work towards promotion if the criteria are explicit and measurable (e.g., “donate 1,000 troops in one season to earn Elder”).
The same principle applies at work. When there is no clear set of criteria for promotions, team members lack direction and are less motivated to work on advancement. When someone gets promoted and it’s not clear why they deserved the promotion, other team members get restless and anxious and wonder about the fairness of the promotion process. Head off such concerns by creating a clear set of criteria for promotions and delivering on your promises.
4. Coach junior members and set a clear growth path for each person
Your clan wins and loses together. Strengthen the clan one member at a time.
The biggest demand on your time as a clan Leader will be answering questions from your less experienced team members. “How’s my base?” is by far the most common question I get, followed closely by “How do I improve this raid?” and “What do I upgrade next?”
It takes time to answer such questions properly; you’ll need to review the player’s village, check their troop levels, watch their raid performance, and offer specific recommendations.
It’s a huge time sink, but if you don’t coach your less experienced clanmates, you can’t expect them to do well when the clan goes to war. Players who lead their clan to victory do so by strengthening their clan one member at a time.
The same principle applies at work. If you don’t take the time to mentor your less-experienced team members, they won’t be pulling their own weight. You or other team members will have to step in and pick up the slack and you’ll end up with a team that underperforms. Strengthen your team by coaching less experienced staff and agreeing on individual development plans (IDPs) with each team member. Make sure everyone knows what skills they’ll need to ‘upgrade’ next.
5. Communicate your strategy
Your clanmates are not mind-readers. Always explain the battle plan.
Leaders and Co-leaders have the ability to send in-game mail to clan members. War strategy is communicated mainly through these messages.
Leaders who don’t take the time to explain the battle plan will find themselves scratching their heads at the war-time decisions that their clanmates make.
Attack strategies that seem obvious to you will not be obvious to someone who is less experienced or who has fought fewer wars than you have. Always err on the side of over-communicating when it comes to war strategy.
The same principle applies at work. Your team members are not mind-readers nor do they spend as much time as you thinking about the big picture. Team members who don’t know the team’s strategy and objectives can’t be blamed for making decisions that make sense tactically but which are counter-productive strategically. Be prepared to explain the strategy and priorities repeatedly until everyone is on the same page.
6. Delegate power and responsibility
Don’t go at it at alone. Get Co-leaders and Elders to help run the clan.
No matter how much you love the game, there’s only so much time you can spend playing it. Inevitably, something in the clan will go wrong when you happen to be offline.
Two clanmates, for example, can get on each other’s nerves and engage in a full-blown flame war in clan chat. An incorrigible clanmate could be donating Wall Breakers when the troop request specified Wizards.
When things get messy, your sanity is saved by Co-leaders and Elders who share the burden of enforcing the rules. They also share the recruiting, onboarding, coaching, and mentoring responsibilities, which can be a huge relief when you’re too tired to do more than tap a few buttons to donate troops.
The same principle applies at work. There are only so many hours in a day. To be an effective leader, you must focus only on the things that need your personal attention (i.e., “do the right things”). Everything else can and should be delegated to trusted lieutenants who have the responsibility, authority, and staffing to get the job done. Without delegation, you will be the bottleneck that slows everyone down and there will be a hard limit to what your team can accomplish. Don’t try to lead alone.
7. Get to know your team
Understand strengths, weaknesses, motivations. Go beyond the name and rank.
When you take the time to get to know your clanmates, you do a much better job of leading the clan.
For example, you know which timezone each player is in and what time of day they usually get online. You know which players are still in school and will become less active when the new school year starts. You know which player shares her iPad with her eight-year-old sibling and shouldn’t be promoted to Elder or Co-leader.
These and many other small data points are gleaned through conversations and observation.
As a clan leader, you make more informed decisions (e.g., which members do I draft into the next war?) when you collect and remember this information.
The same principle applies at work. When a new project comes up and you have to decide who gets to work on it, your knowledge of your team’s strengths, weaknesses, and motivations become critical. For example, you’ll remember who has expressed interest in this type of assignment, even if it’s outside their normal scope of work. You’ll know who has a spouse with a long-term illness and is already under a lot of stress at home. You’ll know who prefers assignments with more travel. If you stop at just knowing the name and rank of your team members and fail to get to know them as people, you will make less informed decisions.
8. Celebrate and memorialize the wins
Recognize accomplishments and celebrate the victories.
Clan wars are equal parts stress and exhilaration so when the clan wins a war, a good Leader will take the time to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishment.
Non-war accomplishments are also worth celebrating. When a clanmate upgrades a hero to Level 20 or when someone manages to save 8 million Elixir to upgrade their dragons to Level 5, a quick but sincere “nice work!” in clan chat makes a big difference to your clanmate.
Many clans have taken to memorializing accomplishments by recording and uploading videos to YouTube and creating clan websites. Individual clan members can show off their raids to friends and family once a raid is online, which adds to their sense of accomplishment.
The same principle applies at work. Teams are motivated when they can celebrate their wins. And research has shown that the best managers create a work environment where employees receive timely recognition or praise for doing good work.
It took me two years of playing Clash of Clans to recognize that these leadership principles are universal and can apply both at work and at play.
- Set a high and relevant hurdle for entry
- Set clear expectations for behavior and performance
- Define the criteria for promotion
- Coach junior members and set a clear growth path for each person
- Communicate your strategy
- Delegate power and responsibility
- Get to know your team
- Celebrate and memorialize the wins
It’s not every day that I get to merge my interests in both work and play into a single post, so I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. And in case you were wondering, I have no affiliation with Supercell nor have I been compensated for writing this post. Clash on!