Leadership lessons I learnt from being a geeky kid…

When I was growing up I was always a big fan of fantasy books and games! My favourite book of all time is the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien’s masterpiece. I have read it countless times and until the films were produced would probably read it at least once a year. I guess as a child I loved the escapism and the “anything is possible” magic that the fantasy genre provides.

As a geeky kid (I have finally accepted that I wasn’t one of the cool kids – it’s OK I have come to terms with it) my friends and I used to enjoy playing fantasy role play games. Our favourite system was Middle Earth which was based around Tolkien’s world.

This week my mind was taken back to reflect on what lessons did I learn as a geeky kid about leadership from the games I used to play (see I am still a geek – I can’t help it!)

What prompted this thought was problem solving – is the ability to solve problems a massive asset or a potential detriment to great leadership? I have worked with many leaders who love solving problems, but this amazing strength can at times prevent them from stepping away from the problem and allowing space for others in their team to solve and learn. Sometimes these leaders focus so much on their own ability to overcome challenges that they forget to leave some space for their teams to have a go.

So back to the geeky teenager playing with dice in my friends’ bedroom! For those who have never role played (not that kind – this is a family blog!) the premise is that you and your pals create characters based on the various “races” that existed in the Tolkien world. You could be an elegant Elf, a sturdy dwarf or a nimble hobbit for instance. The key was that each race had strengths and weaknesses and you create your own character based on a set of parameters. As a group you then proceed to explore the world around you and as you face into different challenges and problems you learn and develop new skills or make use of specific talents. There is team work and individual contribution and masses of satisfaction seeing your own character grow and become more adept. And the feeling of success you get when you have worked out and overcome a real challenge was awesome!

However, the whole system relies massively on the Games Master. One of the group chooses to be the storyteller and creates the narrative – they in effect translate the world into your own story and within this narrative they lay out the challenges that the group might have to overcome and face. These might be tests of brawn and involve battles (always fun beating up the baddies) but just as important there will be problems to solve and puzzles to overcome. Very much the enjoyment of the game was dependent on how skilled the Games Master was. They set the challenges – a great Games Master would create a compelling narrative and set the challenges high enough to stretch and really push your limits but not so impossible that you failed consistently or got killed first time out!

As I was reflecting I considered how similar the Games Master is to leadership. You are there to serve the group – you provide the meaning. Games Masters have to give a compelling narrative that inspires and engages so that the group know what they are doing, where they are going and ultimately what the quest is for – what is the purpose? The Leader is there to set challenges and to help the team overcome them but not necessarily to solve them on the teams behalf, or even overly influence their approach. The Leader, like the Games Master will reward success and measure advancement and be the barometer to know how close to the team are to fulfilling their quest. The Leader is required to alter the challenges to ensure that each character can play a full and active part in the adventure and to make sure they stay engaged and see their value to the team as a whole. Ultimately the leader is there to help the team to reflect on the adventures and challenges they have overcome and learn and grow. Just like in the game where the team steps up and overcomes a massive challenge the leader is there to celebrate with them but the glory is held by the team.

So, what do you think – is problem solving or challenge setting the mark of a truly great leader? Should great leaders lead from the front and be first into battle with a key problem or quietly orchestrate the advancement of the team by carefully selected quests and adventures that help them grow?

We at Mindset Associates love exploring how leaders can create exciting narratives and develop their skills to engage, inspire and challenge their teams to deliver outstanding results. If you would like to talk to us about how we can help your leaders create a team of hero’s and legends, then please contact us at enquiries@mindsetassociates.com

Haydn Bratt, Pioneer, Mindset Associates


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