What I think I know about alliance leadership

So, you want to lead an alliance. Awesome! This game thrives on competition, and the community is at its best when there are lots of good alliances struggling to best one another. Strong alliances capable of making things happen are one of the most important factors that makes this game so exciting, and good leaders are an important component (although by far not the only one) of good alliances. But good leaders are rare and bad leaders leave behind a trail of dead alliances.

This thread is a short collection of ideas about how to lead an alliance in TDZK effectively. I have no qualifications to write this aside from leading for a long time Fury, an alliance that most (although certainly not all) considered to be pretty good in the previous incarnation of the game. Some of these things I learned by being lucky enough to get it right and reaping the rewards. Some of it I learned by getting things horribly wrong and paying for it. Some of it I realized in retrospect and wished I’d known at the time.

This guide is mainly meant for those looking to lead a “serious” alliance seeking to make some impact in the game. It is not necessarily about leading a small alliance that is a group of friends that wants to have fun, chat on IRC, and casually hunt, although some of the ideas might still apply. There’s certainly nothing wrong with those alliances, but they’re generally outside the purpose of this guide.

There’s no secret formula for leadership, I can’t promise you that any of this is actually good advice at all; every leader has his own style and discovers his own way of doing things. I can only offer what I think I know, so evaluate this advice on its own merits and go with makes sense to you. I hope it helps.

Onto the fun stuff!

Life is easier as a grunt

Leading a decently serious alliance sucks, and you should know that before you get in too deep. Leading sucks even if you’re surrounded by awesome people and have subordinates that do everything for you (thanks guys!). It’s hard when you’re getting started and it doesn’t get a whole lot easier over time.

Leading is time consuming. It’s stressful. And it’s inglorious work, because most of what you do is behind the scenes and is rarely seen or appreciated. Leading means dealing with stupid drama and disgruntled players and sometimes making painfully hard decisions that might come back and haunt you for months or years. Leading means rolling up your sleeves and doing the much of the tedious, time consuming work that no one really wants to do but that needs to be done. In TDZK, it means a ton of time and emotional energy invested in something which is, in the end, a pretty silly game. You might have other plans for that time which you’d rather not spend soothing ruffled feathers and melting your brain trying to figure out a working raid time for people from eight different time zones and busy personal lives. I can’t blame you.

Unlike the real world, being higher up in the pecking order in a TDZK alliance means a lot of extra work but affords you no real benefits or perks aside from the ability to have a greater hand in the direction of the alliance and the personal satisfaction of a job well done. It’s also thankless work, and if you’re in it for ego or personal glory, it’s not going to be worth it for you. For the most part, a talented hunter is infinitely more visible and gets far more recognition than the best leader. That’s not to say it’s not fulfilling; leading an alliance can be highly rewarding, even meaningful. But the sole satisfaction of seeing your alliance develop and prosper over time has to be enough for you.

Lots of brilliant TDZK player that are more than qualified to be awesome leaders intentionally choose not to because they know it’s a major pain in the ass and prefer to just play the game. There’s no shame in this, and there’s more than a bit of wisdom. If you’re serious about leading an alliance and having a decent go at it, make sure you know what you might be getting yourself into.

Authority doesn’t come with the title

Your positional “authority” as leader is meaningless. TDZK is an internet game where people pretend to pilot spaceships and blow up other spaceships. People play TDZK as a leisure activity. There is nothing at stake in TDZK for anyone except for time and ego. Consequently, your position as the leader of a TDZK alliance is meaningless in and of itself. This is not the military, a business, or even a sports team. Your authority, and the “power” you wield, has no teeth.

A common mistake of poor or inexperienced leaders in a game like this is that they think that leadership is a matter of power relationships, and that their “leader” or “subcom” title means they inherently deserve respect and obedience. From this viewpoint, effective leadership is mostly a matter making the right decisions and subordinates promptly doing what they’re told, lest they face the consequences.

In the short term, this can be true. People might temporarily listen to you because you’re the leader, and they might even grudgingly follow orders they disagree with, but it only goes so far. Eventually, if your players don’t believe in you and don’t see the point in what you want them to do, they’ll just go somewhere else for their fun, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. What are you going to do, boot them from the alliance?

Any effective long term authority you expect to wield has to come from the respect that your players have for you, not from the [LEADER] tag next to your name. Players will listen to what you have to say and do what you want them to do because they believe in you and think you know what you’re doing, not because you have the power to kick them from the alliance. This respect isn’t something that comes with the title, but rather something that you have to build up over time. You have to work at it, and you can’t take it for granted.

Most of this guide is in one way or the other about building that respect.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

There’s nothing more boring that a leader that can’t laugh at him or herself. New leaders sometimes have a tendency to be overly serious and spend time agonizing about their perception within the alliance -- I know I certainly did. Do people take me seriously? Am I acting “leaderly” enough? These guys are making for of me for taking a pod -- do they secretly think I suck at the game?

Don’t worry about it. People don’t expect you to be perfect, just honest. Players respond far better to leaders that have a sense of humor and can poke fun at themselves than they to do ones that that keep an icy distance from the troops so that the pecking order remains clear. As long as you’re making good decisions and doing your best for the alliance, people will respect you.

Don’t burn bridges

Leadership is a stressful, emotional thing, and it’s easy to take things personally. Maybe it’s a player leaving, or a defeat handed to you ingame, or one of a million other things that can go wrong in an alliance.

But whatever you do, don’t burn your bridges. It can be easy to decide that a person or alliance means nothing to you and that it doesn’t matter if you’re never on civil terms with them again. It can be easy to dismiss someone with a cutting remark, and it might make you feel like a badass. But don’t be an asshole for the thrill of a good burn. It might be satisfying in the moment, but it doesn’t get you anywhere and it’s usually embarrassing in retrospect.

Players will leave your alliance for all manner of reasons. Maybe they’re bored and looking for something different. Maybe they just never gelled with the culture of your alliance. Maybe they have friends in another alliance they feel loyal to. Who knows? It all hurts, and it can very personal. But clamp down on your tongue. Wish them well. Don’t be an ass. There’s nothing to be gained and everything to be lost.

People you’ve wronged or been harsh to can damage you in ways you’ll never anticipate. An ex-player you took a parting shot at might feel more inclined to leak sensitive information to his new alliance. A player you’ve shamed might decide to ram your raid team into a port. An alliance you’ve bullied might assemble a coalition to take you down.

Conversely, the better you are to people, the better they are to you, and over time this also plays out in complex ways that you can never anticipate. An enemy that you were respectful to might be impressed with your character and choose to join your alliance in the future, and you might discover that he wasn’t such a bad guy at all. Today’s disgruntled departing player might be tomorrow’s returning and even more loyal one.  Today’s enemy might be tomorrow’s powerful ally. You never know how things will work out.

Now, I’m certainly not saying you should be a pushover. Stand up for yourself and what you think is right. But try to do it without being an ass. You never, ever come out worse off for forcing yourself to take the high road. If you find yourself getting too pissed about something, step back for a moment before you do something you’ll regret.

Never take credit

Did you just spend two weeks pulling strings, shuffling funds, and designing ships to make a successful raid op happen? Excellent work! Bask in the private glow of a job well done and thank the raiders and RCs and escorts and everyone else involved for making it happen. It was their doing, not yours, and make sure they know it.

The only time you should be taking credit for something is when something goes wrong. Did a player screw up his squad setting and destroy two expensive raiders? Don’t crucify him! He already feels bad enough. Apologize to everyone for not being clearer about squad settings and for not double checking before you started.

One of the most crucial things you can do as a leader is to make your players feel involved in and responsible for the successes of your alliance. That can be harder than you expect. You will put in a ton of work towards the alliance, it’s not always visible, and it’s natural to want credit. But if you find yourself fishing for compliments or subtly trying to shift some praise towards yourself, stop. You’re making a mistake, and it’s not worth it.

People are stupid, but not that stupid

People are stupid, especially in a game as emotionally charged as TDZK can be. If your leadership experience is anything like mine, you’ll have frequent occasion to deal with players that are upset for dumb reasons, are causing needless problems, or are creating drama that makes you want to rip you hair out. People are stupid and unreasonable and part of what you try to do as a leader is to handle their stupidity while keeping your own under control.

However, people aren’t so stupid that they can’t tell when you’re patronizing them. When you’re dealing with drama, you have to be upfront with them; you can’t just shrug off the issue or not tell them how you really feel for fear of offending them farther. People respond to honesty and if you are direct (but polite) about telling them how you see the situation and why their behavior is bothering you, more often than not an ugly conversation will take a much more productive turn.

Let’s say a player you have difficulties with is disgruntled because he thinks he should be a subcom for his service to the alliance. You could stall and mince words and tell him that there are no openings and that you really appreciate all he does for the alliance that maybe someday in the future something will open up (yeah right). That might keep him around for a bit in resentful silence. Or you can be level with him and tell him that, honestly, you haven’t seen enough standout initiative from him to warrant a leadership role and that he is getting into too many personality conflicts to really be considered. This truth might hurt. Maybe he’ll be offended, but at least he won’t be left with the impression that you don’t respect him enough to tell him the truth. And very possibly, things might take a turn for the better.

Honesty doesn’t always produce magical results and some drama will never resolve, but you owe it to your players to tell them the truth.

You need to be the hardest working and least rewarded player in the alliance

Nothing brews resentment or kills alliances more quickly than leaders that think that they deserve special privileges. I can’t tell you number of times I’ve seen alliance leaders flying ships that were 30 levels higher than the rest of the alliance or using the AA as their private bank account and how few of those alliances lasted more than a round. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that being a leader means you are somehow above menial work, that your ship must be the “flagship” of the fleet, or that if you’re slogging through the mud with everyone else, it detracts from your “authority.”

You have to hold yourself to the same standards as you hold anyone else, and it’s better than you hold yourself to much tougher standards. “Lead by example” may be a cliché, but it’s critical in regards to earning respect. It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect more from your members than you expect from yourself. If your AA is badly in need of money and you’re calling for people to trade and donate, you should be at the top of the list of donators. If you’re asking people to be up at 2 AM for an important jump, you should be up too if at all possible. If you’re asking that people make a sacrifice of some sort, you should be first in line. If you don’t do what you demand from your members, they will resent you for it. Practice what you preach, because no one respects a hypocrite.

Stop making rules

A lot of new leaders start out by laying out a long list of detailed alliance rules because it feels like a productive and leaderly thing to do. Attend a X number of ops per month! Donate X money to the per week! Wear X ship tag! Log X hours per day! Be on IRC for X hours and make X forum posts per week! Back when Fury was getting started, we had requirements that people spend a certain percentage of their turns planet building and also tried to get everyone to wear standardized red alliance tags.  Later, I made a number of attempts to ban posting on the alliance politics forum, none of which I truly followed up on. Those were all stupid and totally unrealistic.

Avoid this trap! Rules are bad, for a lot of reasons. The more rules you have, the more stuff you have to enforce, and the harder your job is. And the more detailed an/or trivial they are, the worse it gets you. Let’s say you have a rule that requires people donate 1 billion to the AA weekly. Are you really going to kick someone if they don’t? What if they donate 700 million? Is that okay? Or even more trivially, let’s say you want everyone to wear the same text tag in the front of your shipname in a show of alliance solidarity and so everything looks pretty when you massacre someone in the notices. Do you really want to spend your time policing that? What if someone wants to wear a different tag? Is it worth the fight? Why bother?

Only make the rules you feel really strongly about and that you’re absolutely, 100% planning on enforcing, and then enforce them when the time comes. If you make tons of rules and then don’t enforce them, all it does it weaken your credibility. What matters to you will be totally different from what matters to someone else.

Leaders often make rules to encourage certain types of behavior. Rules can be helpful at getting this started, but the more effective solution is to build those behaviors into the culture of your alliance. In the example of AA donations, a donation requirement might help things along, but the real long term reward will come when you build an alliance culture based around teamplay and unselfishness. In the shiptag example, you could make a stupid post demanding that people change their shipnames, or you could work on strengthening that sense of alliance identity so that people are proud to fly your flag.

Rules are surface level things, but real results come when you work more deeply.

Play cleanly

There will be times where you’ll be tempted to cheat, do something underhanded, or bend the rules for an advantage. Resist! The history of TDZK is littered with broken alliances and disgraced players that thought they could get away with cheating and failed. Don’t be one of this sorry bunch.

There’s a wide range of ethnically questionable behavior in TDZK, ranging from the more obvious bannable offenses like multiple accounts and exploit abuse to allowed but still sketchy actions like using spies, acting on leaked information, planting players in other alliances to suicide their raid squads, backstabbing allies and so forth. I’d urge you to avoid as much of it as you can. Yes, you can reap sometimes considerable short term rewards, but in the long term, it’s never worth it.

Once your alliance gets a reputation for being shady, and once word gets out that you have lousy principles, two things happen. First, you’ll lose good players. Strong morals tend to go hand in hand with hard work and good personalities, and as soon as it becomes obvious that your ethics are poor, those players are going to find somewhere else where they don’t have to play with the stigma of being in a shady alliance. And second, you’re not going to pick up good players for exactly the same reason. No one worth having wants to be associated with unethical play, and before long, the only people in your alliance will be the ones who are either too stupid to realize what’s going on or too corrupt to care. That might be okay with you, but there’s a reason that alliances with a reputation for cheating are unstable and don’t last long.

By far the best players in the game are the ones who are able to be awesome without having to cheat. Those are the ones you want to attract into your alliance, those are the ones that will make you great, and those are the ones you drive away with bad ethics.

Deal with personal problems immediately

Yeah, the title might seem blindingly obvious, but it’s hard to put into practice, particularly in terms of conflict between players, your least fun duty. This really goes hand in hand with the “people are stupid, but not that stupid” section in that addressing issues quickly and honestly is critical

Don’t let bad blood simmer in the hopes that it’ll magically work itself out. If a player is causing issues, deal with him directly in whatever way you need to. If the alliance is unhappy with something, address that sooner rather than later. Delaying only makes you look out of touch or indecisive and untended problems only get worse over time.

Have a consistent vision for the alliance

A huge amount of what you have to do as a leader is to figure out what your alliance is ultimately about and communicate that to your players and, indirectly, to the game. What do you want from the alliance? What’s the end goal? How are you going to get there? Even if you’re a tiny startup alliance, a clear vision for a stronger future will make a huge difference as you develop a roster.

Having a vision is important because it leads to the subtle differences in style and personality that will make your alliance unique. If you know where you’re trying to go, it illuminates the correct path when you’re at a crossroads. And if you know what you’re about and what you’re trying to do, you’ll attract the sort of players that will make it happen.

It’s not about you
People only do "unfun" tasks in the service of a higher goal
Don’t be a mascot