Game On: Mentor for the Win-Leader's Suck
Casual Gaming Teaches All You Need To Know About Both
It’s omnipresent: at the DMV, courthouse, laundry mat, grocery store, and in every line you see at any location. There are big-screen ominous warnings at the movies to silence it, and airplanes have a special mode for it.
In America alone, 96% of the population carries their life in a small rectangular box -- the cell phone. Besides the earth’s surface, the most populated place on earth is online - making this vast sanctuary the largest ‘common room’ globally.
The apps and information crawling through webspace have far-reaching capabilities. In your hands is a profoundly powerful instrument. Technology has merged warm personal connections through the cold wireless distance in delightful irony.
A Master's Degree from Harvard in computer science is not a prerequisite to participate in the digital realm. Cell phones have changed several aspects of our lives, such as:
- Dating (Getting our freak on in Tinder hookups are all the rage)
- Meetings & Corporate Events (Virtual events spiked during COVID)
- Automation in menial tasks (Haven't balanced the checkbook in years)
- Artificial intelligence (Alexa talks to my UPS guy)
- Consumer behavior & analytical tracking (my husband gets advertisements based on what I'm searching for online. Super fun to mess with him!); and
- Networking with people that we otherwise would have never met (LinkedIn)
I have watched, awestruck, for the past ten years and have to admit; I am an addict. It did take me 6 months to pronounce MEME correctly, much to the aggravation of my kids--now it's just fun. But, the most engaging apps I have seen are hyper-casual game apps (my biggest vice and strength, I am aware of the oxymoron).
I had played several games in between life’s chores as I dutifully waited in line, ears perked to hear the ‘next’ be called out from the doctor or at a hair appointment. Surprisingly, I noticed I became disappointed when my playtime was over--I even groaned.
Gasp! Had I become completely zen with my place in line and enjoyed waiting for things? Right. I couldn’t even say that with a straight face. I had become a serial gamer.
The Serial Gamer
It started innocently enough, little 3-minute spurts of Bejeweled or Farmville, then I discovered a mobile war game. Unlike my PC game (yes, I was double-fisting it), I was able to carry mobile gaming with me everywhere, hence the appeal.
I soon realized a great deal of my time was spent waiting for things, but now I didn’t mind so much. During my waiting, I was able to advance on the war game into a leadership position. This was a game-changer (see what I did there?).
So blurred were the times between game and reality, I started applying gaming philosophy and strategy as Chancy in my Alliance to business strategy as Business Owner.
The accidental marriage blossomed into a beautiful union resulting in:
- Superior communication
- Precise time, people, and asset management
- Coveted reward & motivational system
- Unwavering commitment & loyalty
- Streamlined business processes; and
- A profound realization of self-worth as it pertains to working in a team
I immediately thought this harmonious philosophy could and should be invested into communities, cities, states…..world?!?
For two years, I inadvertently nurtured this idea. Waiting in line, unyieldingly tapping the ‘attack’ button on my phone, feeling the rush as I gained rewards. I was strategically planning complex attacks and collaborating with teammates in different countries.
Here I was, goal-oriented and dynamically interacting with people all over the country while at the DMV (#bossbitch). But, I must have more. This addictive need – where did it come from, and how could I harness it and translate it to my employees?
Harnessing Game Knowledge to Applicable Skills
When a plan came together in the game, it was a thing of beauty to watch. Little did I know, I was utilizing several skills:
- Emotional intelligence; and
in my ambitions to exceed expectations. Understanding different cultures, demonstrating respect, practicing tolerance, and observing multiple communication methods were paramount for a unified, cohesive group – and our group has some strong personalities.
Stable, accountable leadership and time management were essential in preventing chaos and adherence to policy. Proper training, trust, and delegation were vital building blocks in a smooth, optimized operation.
Creating structured supporting roles in leadership was significant as I could not be on the game 24/7 (no matter how much I wanted to be) if I wanted to maintain any type of life outside the game. Life outside the game was under duress for awhile.
In a war game, loyalty, ambition to advance, communication, commitment, and dependability are critical if you are to succeed. I realized then:
All crucial skills to running a successful organization, both in and out of game, were developed, tested, and mastered in being Chancy of my alliance (#RebTillDead).
A brilliant side-effect of my quest for glory was an online community that transcended from gameplay into daily life. Our community evolved into a network and world-wide exchange of:
- Business services & promotion
- Ideas & collaborations in entrepreneurship
- Entertainment recommendations (some of the best tv series ever!)
- Rants & interventions (saving us from ourselves)
- Self-checks, self-improvement, network & support groups
- And So Much More…
We created a living, breathing utopia amidst the chaos of reality. This utopia allowed us to find ourselves. Our alliance provided us comfort, release, and a safe space to hide and recompose for a few hours every day.
Camaraderie and exchanges of knowledge and expertise among members allowed us to meet challenges we faced outside the game with a concrete support system. We operate with confidence that our in-game family ‘had our backs,’ accepted who we were, and encouraged us to find who we wanted to be.
Today, our game dies, like all mobile apps eventually do, but we are still there for each other, and it is not the game that keeps us; it is the utopia we have created. During my time as Chancy, I owned a small collection business. I applied the same philosophy we used in-game to my management style.
I experienced the same cohesiveness, collaboration, organization, and work ethic in my business we had established in-game. That's when I knew gaming was more than a strategy; it was more significant. An epiphany was brewing, and gaming was the catalyst.
Game theory applied to real-life situations yielded positive results, period. Technology is a universal language (101010110).
The world is smaller, lying in the hammock of Wifi’s web. Distance has been reduced to bars of service. Messages can now go ‘viral.’ Imagine a world where communities treated each other as teammates.
A community of innovators, entrepreneurs, and creative minds in collaboration, bringing all of their experience to the table. We could pool resources and play to each other’s strengths for the advancement of all? A World Alliance--Mwuahahaha! (My geek just fell out again).
Gaming is a mostly untapped resource for this kind of influence and impact on real-world business. Even though online reach is intimidating, profound, and formidable. I firmly believe Games & Theory education should start in Kindergarten (but that's another conversation).
The opportunity to connect as mentors to each other and push ourselves toward our potential is endless. Utilizing game theory in real life will elevate your position and improve your quality of life. Mentoring in the gaming space would be phenomenal. Mentor, not leader. Why? Just one thing to say: Game On.
Game On: Down With Leaders, Rise Of Mentors
People in games, much like adults in the career space, don’t want a leader. They are already adulting in real life and have been for some time.
For the most part, people are pretty adept at doing a job, and that is why you hire them. The last thing they want, or need, is someone telling them how to do their job. Instead, they are looking for:
- Guidance in focusing on the big picture
- Direction on the optimum way to get there and resources to utilize (including people)
- Assistance to live up to their potential
- Something to strive for in goal and profession
- Recognition and reaffirmation of their worth
- Acknowledgment of their contributions to the team
While leaders point the direction and say ‘go’;
Mentors immerse themselves into the task, grab your hand and say:
"this is how, this is why, and this is what we are going to do to get there; any suggestions? Let’s go."
Leader is a term thrown around easily and has different meanings for everyone. There are books written on leadership strategies, leadership techniques, and traits of a good leader. I can appreciate leadership skills, but that can make a Leader or a Mentor.
I have read various definitions, attributes, and all the how-to’s, but the diverse gaming environment turned it all on for me. I had reached enlightenment--Leaders suck.
Think about it, how many bad boss movies are there? Worse yet, how many of those movies can you relate to? There is a reason for it – no one likes being told what to do, especially by someone who does not understand the trial, tribulations, and rewards of being in your position first-hand.
The word mentor even comes with a better connotation because it is saturated in mutual admiration, which fosters:
- Goal setting and Ambition
- Leaders are associated with:
- Emotional ambivalence
Just look at the contrast in definition from Oxford Language:
Leader: the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.
Mentor: An experienced and trusted adviser.
Children are tiny terrorists and therefore need a Leader (don't negotiate with them). Adults do not need to be commanded and ordered about. This distinct difference was what I first recognized in my gaming community with The Rebellion alliance (Rebs). Let's make the introduction since I spend more time with them then real-life family.
Rebs are an alliance 100-strong and have been for several years. The alliance is stocked with strong, dominating personalities and an intense force of will to do everything people tell us not to. The kind of people you don't say 'Don't push that button' or leave us alone in a music store or doctor's waiting room because we will touch everything when no one's looking.
We don’t always agree; in fact, we blow up at each other at times, but my mentor put into motion the glue that would hold our proverbial shit together at all times. We could pick fights with each other in private, but no one outside the alliance would know of our fights or be allowed to pick fights with us. If you chose a battle with one Reb, you had all Rebs to contend with. It made people think twice to take on an entire alliance.
It took years to develop cohesion and unshakeable fortitude that prevailed from my mentor to me and my now successor as Chancy. I know what you are thinking--it is just a game. Remember, I owned a business that infused what I was learning in-game into my real-life career and experienced the same results.
Implementation was far easier in real-life than in-game, primarily because your communication has to be spot-on without seeing people’s actual reactions when in-game. Reading emotion through text on a screen is difficult until you know the person well.
Having emotional intelligence (reading reactions) is crucial in mentorship and is a challenge when you navigate without the benefit of seeing people in real-life situations and natural habitats.
The Making Of A Mentor
You know when you have become a mentor when someone calls you one. Mentor is a title given of one’s own volition because that is how they see you.
Leaders can be appointed or born into the position through nepotism, but that doesn’t mean everyone accepts them as a leader or that they are a good one. Leadership can come unearned. To me, the value in it is lost.
A leader can become a mentor; mentors can be leaders. The difference is how people reflect on their relationship with you and what you bring to the table.
Mentors Don’t Know Everything
The moment you realize you don’t know everything is when you are on your way to becoming a mentor. There is always something new to be learned. Mentors do not believe themselves so superior that their ears fall deaf on new ideas or new ways to do things just because they may be experts in their field.
Mentors have mastered the job skills and stay on top of new methods to do that job as society makes technical advances. Mentors have wrestled with every challenge the mentee will face and provide guidance to avoid those mistakes or master obstacles.
Mentors see the value in failing at a task. Mentors are a wealth of knowledge and take a vested interest in passing on that knowledge to their mentees. Mentors are interested in the mentee’s well-being and career.
Their goal is to enhance and elevate your career and the field because they have a passion for it. But, mentors do not know everything and are always aware of that sentiment--even if they don’t tell you.
Mentors Identify Superpowers
When I first joined Rebs, I was asked ‘farmer or fighter.’ I didn’t know it then, but it was a vetting question to find out what I liked doing. I was a noob and had no idea what I liked. I was provided schooling in both. I found out later, I was a fighter and thrived on the drama it created. As I progressed, I was given jobs within the alliance that catered to my skillset and nurtured it.
My assigned jobs contributed to the alliance with tasks I enjoyed and was good at. It turned out I was decent at mediating conflict and navigating politics with other alliances, so I was made a VC and soon became the Chancy’s protégé.
This is just a game, right? Well, yes and no. I took the 'farmer or fighter' question to the office. Interestingly, I found people working for me had other skills they weren’t using. Skills that would be incredibly beneficial to my company if nurtured and focused in the right direction. Obviously, the question was not farm or fight, but I did ask:
- What is your favorite task in your current job?
- What would you like to learn?
- What is your least favorite job?
- How do you contribute to the team?
- What skills did you learn in education or other jobs? Service-learning?
I discovered people apply for jobs they can do, but not necessarily what they excel at or have been trained to do. Gotta make a living, right? A restrictive job description overshadows potential when you pigeon-hole someone into a job and allow that job to define them.
I scrapped the job descriptions to start over. Ted Lasso, Be Curious, comes to mind. Simply adapting a position better suited to people’s strengths yielded a massive increase in company revenue and employee commitment. Creating the job for the person, not suffocating the person in the job--makes a tremendous improvement.
The girl that answered phones was quite adept at marketing. The attorney was a math whiz, genius level, and enjoyed answering phones to break up the day. This knowledge allowed me to terminate my contract with my offensively expensive media consultant and have the receptionist market for me part-time while the attorney covered her shift on the phones.
Unorthodox, maybe, but they both increased company income and employee morale soared. There was--passion. That is only one example of tailoring job descriptions to a range of duties to improve morale and revenue.
Finding people’s superpowers and providing an outlet for them to explore and enhance skills and gain experience benefits everyone. Showing employees a vested interest in their career development will breed loyalty and an interest in participating in your company's success.
There is something to be said for:
If you love your job, you don’t work a day in your life.
The quality and quantity of production went up considerably. Employees were more willing to take on more work and present ideas to streamline operations--increasing revenue. This was expected from what I had seen in the game, but one thing wasn’t.
Employees morphed into mentors. They started helping the ‘weak’ links. This showed me there was pride happening. Pride in what they were producing, pride in each other, and pride in accomplishing tasks--pride in the company. I got us t-shirts and jackets.
To prevent a dictatorship, encourage vested interest, and demonstrate confidence in your staff, delegating responsibilities when you are present and absent is crucial. So is giving jobs to members not in executive positions. Advancement is an excellent motivator, as is the praise of a mentor because it is earned.
As a mentor, you are not optimizing your time if you cannot delegate work. Dually, you are not giving anyone a vested interest in the mission and the company’s end goal, much less its longevity and legacy.
The company should not threaten to collapse if you are not around. You do not feel a void with good mentorship if the President is missing; you miss them because you are connected, not because you don’t know what to do. Delegating work leads to self-awareness and reinforces self-worth.
This self-awareness and worth is not a journey of discovery regarding who you were through adolescence. This revelation refers to the self-awareness and worth you develop in becoming part of a team with the tutelage of a mentor.
You become aware of your strengths and weaknesses within the team and how you can contribute. Ambition burns brightly when you invest your time, skill and connect with a team. It is common in sports, gaming, and real life.
You become a mentor, contributor, and help others see their potential. All of a sudden, you are the unrelenting cheerleader for team and protector of all you have invested. You master your skill with your teammates and feel the bond of community within the group.
Game self-awareness is reinventing yourself and your attitude to reflect well on yourself within your team and an unshakeable pride to be a member of it.
This is where relationships and community transcend from game to real-life and from work to personal life. Creativity in process improvement and workflow start to form and employees contribute at a higher level.
Mentors Exemplify A Code Of Conduct
Talking the talk and walking the walk leads others to trust accountability. Not everyone will like you, but they will respect your decisions because you are consistent and dependable. The mentor code isn’t something that has to be written down; it is emanated through how you act both under pressure and when things are at their best.
For example, my mentor delegated the workload in the alliance and was consistent in the way he acted. So, in his absence, I quickly maneuvered through obstacles because he had provided consistent answers and actions I could depend on as a blueprint.
I fashioned my company the same way. You could ask my General Manager, Receptionist, Lawyer, or anyone else in my company a question and get the same answer from everyone. There was no variance or people looking around pointing at each other avoiding responsibility.
We were one unit, a unified front emitting consistent policy, and cohesion. This led to white-glove customer service. There was no 20-minute hold or transfer when you called my office.
Actions speak louder than words. Of course, I had a written set of policies, but my actions were watched and interpreted. Who reads a 200+ page employee handbook? No one. What is remembered is how you approach and navigate situations. Those are learning opportunities.
Mentors Use Several Forms Of Communication
People learn and retain information differently. Something that is expressed in a way that resonates with you leaves more of an impression than something abstract.
For example, in Rebs, we had people from different countries, cultures, age groups, genders, orientations, education, and various personalities. Everyone’s origin story was different.
How do you create communication that translates across a diverse population? It is a daunting task. Yes, it is a game, but you were dealing with 100 individuals, all adults, who had different expectations and commitment levels for the alliance and the game.
The communication method needed to adhere to all these personal differences. In every game, you have:
- The one who listens to no one
- The one who cries a lot about everything
- The casual players
- The serious players
- The one who can’t say no
- The one that says no too often; and my favorite,
- The keyboard gangsters
The one thing they had in common was they were in Rebellion. So, that’s what I worked from--our common thread. The color of every flag that was not ours, was our common enemy.
My mentor made known--we were a team for better or worse, and if you weren’t with us, you were against us. Strengthen the weak link and support each other. This was something everyone could get behind.
What my mentor had committed to in thought and act, I committed to in writing. I created the Reb ‘welcome wagon’ that communicated our ideology and procedures to every new inductee so there was no confusion.
I made sure my VCs projected our ideology and were prepared to encourage and enforce its provisions. Everyone knew what was expected of them, and all of us were accountable for those expectations, including me--consistency.
Whenever I communicated a strategy, an idea, or just a general note, I would slip in a reminder that we were Rebs to reinforce our cohesion and the reason we were together in this alliance.
I made it personal. I got to know all 100 members. Getting to know them gave me valuable insight into how to communicate with them; it also gave me a connected foundation of personal acquaintance--just like in an office.
Some people are motivated by titles, others by office space, others by food. Good communication comes with getting to know your employees. They are more likely to hear you if you take a personal interest in them and form that connection.
Once you have a rapport, you can tailor communication from general to personal. Taking formality out of communication leads to sincerity and loyalty.
Stories are the ultimate communication tool in a game and real life. People see relevance in storytelling to the current circumstance. My mentor was the best storyteller I had ever heard. He always had a ready story to help us understand the objective, and it was fun to listen to. Grown-up or not, storytime is addictive, relevant, and educational.
His story would lead to us telling our stories and getting a glimpse of each other’s personal lives, finding more commonality, more cohesiveness. I saw this weaving us closer together, and once again, my company became the guinea pig.
Whenever I saw something I didn’t like, I had a story. Whenever I saw something I did like, I had a story. When I had to teach anything, I had a story. I noticed that origin stories resonated most.
It was not the ‘how’ to do something, but the ‘why’ it is done. Once employees understood ‘why,’ they would come out with their own story that usually led to a better, streamlined process.
Employees were more coherent of procedures and how they fit together, not just their role in the company. They communicated better with each other because they understood the workflow and each other’s jobs. Cross-training employees led to better quality and time management and awareness.
Broken down, this means giving people a way to have a vested interest in where you are going. Trust and loyalty form when members are allowed to take equal part in an endeavor relying mainly on each other with little assistance from the executive team.
Employees develop a deep connection to ‘fight for the one beside them’ versus fighting for themselves. This paves the way for charity to other members, acts of goodwill, and an intimate sense of belonging to something bigger than oneself.
There will be disagreements, it's inevitable, but they will respect each other and their differences, express tolerance, gratitude, and establish friendship. Friendships that will transcend game or office.
Mentoring includes swift and sure sanctions with guidance, genuine concern, diplomacy, understanding, personal interest, open-door policy, consistency, and keeping people motivated.
Mentors Know Where They Are Going
Have you ever been in a strange place and felt a bit lost? The normal thing to do is ask directions. But, you look around for someone that simply ‘appears’ to know where they are going and follow them. If you haven’t done it, you’ve thought about it.
In Rebs, my mentor seemed to know where he was going which made a profound difference in how I played in both games and how I started to structure my real-life management. His mission was always clear:
- We are a team; there is no gray area, for better or worse
- We are only as good as our weakest link; the most vulnerable link can be taught & supported
- Everyone has a job to do; positions are assigned by a person’s strengths
- There are consequences for actions
- This is not a democracy, but opinions will be weighed and measured
- Good deeds should be rewarded
His mission kept Rebs a cohesive, ambitious group, as it is today. Not only must you communicate in several ways, but you must also mentor by example. Mentoring by example, is merely another form of communication. Any contradiction to the core values of the organization will be viewed as devaluing those values.
Your credibility as a mentor will be damaged if your actions go against creed because the message to your membership will be you have lost sight of where you are going. People will not follow a lost mentor. Stay the course and make it known you are staying the course.
Mentors Use Positive Reinforcement
Relationship building flows naturally when people are working toward a specific goal. Personal conversations will spark interest in what others do and start networking.
Like LinkedIn contacts, the trade of skills gives entrepreneurial spirit and charitable assistance that thrives in a community setting. People are lifting people, communities helping communities.
You can never have enough friends. The vibe that runs through a well-organized community of supportive team members provides a cushion of support for daily life. Shared responsibility provides more free time and less stress. You know the organization is being well taken care of and provided for.
When you need someone to take a load off your shoulders, you have a vast network of capable, like-minded, trustworthy people to ask advice, to feed your dreams, and to make you laugh. This is a vital resource that can provide you with everything you need to face your day.
I promoted the mentors in real-life. I made a template of short and long-term goals for each employee and as a team. Rewards work--as proven in buyer's remorse because you have to have the chest of gems you didn't win. If we won alliance events in-game, we were given rewards, which made us play harder.
I tried to recreate this addiction with a Goal Board. For each short-term goal, dots would be moved for that person until they hit the 5 goals. Once they hit 5, I would take them to lunch, and we would set the next 5.
As an individual hit 5 goals, a marble would go in the team jar. When the marbles got to the top, I would reward them with a personal day to take whenever they wanted, obviously not on the same day, and it would be a paid personal day.
Nothing to Do But Enjoy
Finally, enjoyment. You must feel rewarded for what you do and enjoy that you are doing it. The best productive state of mind stems from an environment where you feel:
- Part of a team
- Freedom to express ideas; and
- Rewarded for them
=Happiness and contentment
As a mentor, it is your job to find what motivates employees and give them jobs well suited to their strengths. If you are playing to someone’s weakness, tasks are frustrating and they lose interest quickly. People grow amazingly fast when doing something they enjoy and seek new ways to contribute to the cause.
There is nothing left to do with everything said but sit back and enjoy the fruits of your well-organized team. Enjoy each other, the talks, the differences, the laughs, the trivial, the substantial, and the nonsense--all things a mentor can do, but a leader can’t.
Mentors also know the bestest quotes ever for pep talks and motivation (OK, this may be just in gaming):
"The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world." - G Man (Half-Life 2); 2004
"We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us." - Andrew Ryan (BioShock); 2007
"You mustn't allow yourself to be chained to fate, to be ruled by your genes. Human beings can choose the kind of life that they want to live. What's important is that you choose life... and then live." - Naomi Hunter (Metal Gear Solid); 1998
"My past is not a memory. It's a force at my back. It pushes and steers. I may not always like where it leads me, but like any story, the past needs resolution. What's past is prologue." - Samus Aran (Metroid: Other M); 2010
"We don't get to choose how we start in this life. Real 'greatness' is what you do with the hand you're dealt." - Victor Sullivan (Uncharted 3: Dr://:ake’s Deception); 2011
“…it is merely an observation on the nature of reality. To say that nothing is true is to realize that the foundations of society are fragile and that we must be the shepherds of our civilization. To say that everything is permitted is to understand that we are the architects of our actions and that we must live with our consequences, whether glorious or tragic.” – Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
“[silence]” – The Legend of Zelda
"It’s a funny thing, ambition. It can take one to sublime heights or harrowing depths. And sometimes they are one and the same." Emily Kaldwin, Dishonored
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