We are all looking for something or someone to believe in. Something bigger than ourselves that we can trust and lean on. Even in NationStates, many of us are looking for the same things that one would look for in life. Purpose, meaning, and community. All of these core desires are driven by leadership. When we are not intentional and active in developing leadership within our regions, we are less likely to retain members or produce sustainable activity.
When people think about leadership, they typically imagine one person. Often someone in a position of authority. A teacher, a parent, a coach, a delegate, a head of regional government, etc. However, this kind of definition is limiting. It puts the responsibility and ownership of activity on individuals rather than the region as a whole. It creates a dependence in which a region’s identity relies on who is in charge that day.
While some of this in moderation is okay, this is not leadership in full. For this essay, I will define leadership as a relationship of influence between people that reflects mutual purposes or goals. If you think of other words that end in “ship” like relationship, companionship, and friendship, they all involve multiple people. When we focus leadership development practices on one person, this is leader development. It is important to distinguish between “leader” and “leadership”. Leadership will always be collectivist and involve multiple people to some degree.
Developing leadership is vital for all regions, organizations, and communities in NationStates. We play a game that is composed of people from various ages, cultures, countries, languages, and backgrounds. This is a beautiful aspect of the game, but also can make working with others super challenging. Now, add the fact that nearly all of the communication related to the game is written; and to repeat, this is just a game. All of these factors can set up any community for conflict, difficulties, people getting burnt out, and dissatisfaction. I would argue that the mitigating factor to resolving all of these potential outcomes is leadership.
But too often, we may think about leadership like “who should run for this position” or “this person would be good for this task” or “who wants to volunteer for this activity.” This is not developing leadership. This is throwing a giant rubber ball of oil out the window and hoping that someone will catch it (Seinfeld reference). And when that rubber ball explodes, we seek to blame others or become reactionary to addressing issues.
Leadership development involves everyone in your region. It involves not only completing necessary tasks to keep the region running, but also truly seeing the person behind the screen. It is creating a shared responsibility where everyone believes in the region and wants to make it better. I was originally asked to write something related to raiding. I want to show in this essay that building a strong and sustainable raiding organization is similar to any other region. We play a game and may choose to focus on different identities/aspects of it. Yet, it is how we carry ourselves within our regions and how we truly show care for our community that should matter just as much if not more. In this essay, I will outline practices to help promote leadership development in a region.
At the core of any region should be connections among the community. Relationship building is the most important aspect of leadership. Not only do these connections help individuals in positions of authority get buy-in from others in a region, but they keep people around. No matter how much someone may enjoy some part of NationStates, they will choose your region if they feel like they belong. Get to know them a bit beyond the game, why do they play Nationstates, what are their goals in the game or within the region, what ideas they may have for the region, etc. Show them that their voice matters. Show them that they are worth your time.
Too often, we get so focused on the daily grind of running a region or assume that people will just feel a sense of belonging naturally. Continuous relationship building should be prioritized like recruitment or cultural events or military activity. Check in with people on Discord, send in-game telegrams, be present in group channels. While it is strategic, it also needs to be genuine. Find shared interests and talk about that. Whether that is related to NS or real life. Share memes and youtube videos if that is your scene. Just be real with people. This is the foundation of everything else I will talk about.
Establish and Reinforce Expectations
Just like relationship building, there should be clear regional expectations that are regularly enforced and discussed. When I say expectations, I mean: behavior, regional standards, regional values, and mission. It is important for everyone to have a solid understanding of what the region is about, what is the region’s identity, and is acceptable. Having a clear mission allows people to always return to the why behind actions. For example, if a main aspect of a region is to have a strong military, consider how all regional practices can help promote that. If people have a good understanding of what a region is about, it gives more clarity for how others can be involved in advancing the mission on their own and with others.
Have Clear Opportunities for Involvement in Regional and Self Engagement
Often, people want to be part of making a region better and this process promotes leadership development. It is critical to lay out the different ways to support the region and how someone can get involved with it. Whether this is through elections or specific ranks, etc. I think there is value in identifying a variety of initiatives that help the region. Embrace that you will have members of a community that have different interests and different reasons that motivate them.
Beyond simply having these opportunities, it is important to not just see these initiatives as jobs that are needed to complete. Too often, regions unintentionally view their members as workers who use them to do things until they are burnt out and then we move on to the next member for replacement. We need to rethink these initiatives and consider how they also benefit the members who are engaging in them. Try to help members find a way to incorporate their personality/interests/flair to the region. Don’t wait for them to come to you about ideas or suggestions. Go to them. Help them figure out areas of themselves/skills that they want to get better at. Basically, make sure that when someone is helping the region, they are also helping themselves. And most importantly, put their wellbeing first. Make sure people are taking care of themselves and whatever they are doing in the region is not totally dependent on them.
Affirm and Validate
As I said at the beginning, you are going to have people in a community with different ages, maturity levels, and understanding of the game. You may have someone come to you with an idea or suggestion that will definitely not work at all. Regardless of how silly the idea may be, I always recommend affirming and validating the person and their ideas in some fashion. The fact that someone either approached you or was willing to share an idea shows some level of enthusiasm. Embrace that. Here’s a general approach to consider for these interactions:
Person shares idea
You: Thank you for sharing. So talk me through…. [seek clarity on the idea and understanding the why behind it.] How do you think this will help the region?
What if the idea is no good or doesn’t help the region?
Provide some clarity/education about the region/practices and then ask, “do you think this idea would fit into that? How?” Basically you want to guide the person to figuring out on their own that the idea is not great. From there, help them understand various aspects about the region and in general that you or others are considering when coming up with new initiatives for the region. Basically, you want the person to leave the conversation with the knowledge and tools to have a better understanding of future ideas that align with the region. And lastly, thank them again.
Create a space where people leave those conversations not only having a better understanding of the region, but also feel some sense of affirmation. This will hopefully make it more likely than they will continue to engage with the region. If someone feels too shut down, they may eventually just lose the confidence or desire to make suggestions.
Have a System to Recognize Emerging Leaders
Players want something tangible to show them that the regional leadership cares for them, sees their potential, and appreciates the player’s efforts. For military organizations, this is already in place with promotions to higher ranks. There are a number of ways to reward people. A region needs to realize the importance of doing that reguarly to increase buy-in and motivation.
Having leadership roles can also help with this. Putting someone in a regional recognized position shows the person that they are valued. It also provides them with some level of authority, which is important in getting others to follow what they say. A position also provides clarity to the region as to what the player’s goals are and the why behind their actions. It may also give something for others to strive for.
Leadership positions should not be static. While they should align to the mission of the region, it is smart to develop roles that fit the strengths of your members. For example, if you have a member who is really into roleplay and there is an interest in the region, the member could be given the role of overseeing a particular role play in the region.
Focus on Emerging Leaders who are Trainable
Members should not simply be given leadership roles because they are active. The hope is that they have shown aspects of being a leader already such as helping new members, having a positive can-do attitude, and have solid potential to do good for the region. Sometimes a region may give power to someone because they are competent in technology or R/D or another specific part of the game. A leader that brings baggage like a negative attitude can hurt a region more than the good they bring.
The reality is that no one is perfect and regions (especially UCRs) do not have the luxury to just wait around for someone who has it all. With that said, it is vital to actively seek out and identify players who are trainable. Maybe they do not have the most knowledge about how something is done or of the region, but they have a solid attitude, are willing to learn, and see the importance of teamwork. They understand that we are all learning and work to get better even when mistakes happen. As one advances in leadership, they will have added responsibilities and more people that depend on them. You want to find people who you can trust to handle that. The other regional stuff can be taught. Leadership is also something that can be taught, but it is way harder with someone who may be too rigid to actively work on growth or who focuses more on doing things for themselves rather than the region. Or someone who simply wants power.
Showcase and Share your Knowledge
NationStates, as a platform, has never been the best at retaining history. With the switches of forums, RMBs previously having a limited number of retained posts, and the majority of information housed off-site, there is so much of the game that has been lost. Even with that, we still stand on the shoulder of giants. We have gotten to where we are from the knowledge that has been built over the course of nearly two decades. Yet there are lots that may be missing.
Within regions, it can often feel somewhat similar. Regional leadership should actively consider showcasing their skills and experience. While many can assume that someone is in a leadership position because they have earned it, people want to see those skills in action. People in leadership positions should be present and engage in activities that show their abilities. Be transparent with decisions and the reasons behind your actions. Show them how you think through initiatives and all the various aspects you are considering. Share lessons you’ve learned over the years in life and in NationStates.
All of this serves to help others connect with you as a person and a leader. Furthermore, it gives others insight that will help them grow as leaders. It is easy to forget how much knowledge you have that has not been explicitly shared. Regardless of whether you are in a leadership position or not, consider what you have to offer and share with others. Generative leadership is the idea of taking responsibility to develop leadership in others. This is something that anyone can do and can be super powerful among peers. You should not only be conscious to share your own knowledge, but encourage others to do the same.
This essay is just a starting point for ideas to consider when developing leadership. Overall, my main point is that it is a priority that we should keep in mind. We should all work to help others get better at NationStates, within our regions, and in life. With this in mind, we all take on the collective responsibility of advancing ours and others in leadership. While this is a talk, I would encourage you all to treat this as a Q+A as well. Feel free to ask me any question you’d like to continue the conversation about leadership development. Also, if you have any questions about raiding/raiders as well, feel free to ask!