So anyone who has ever worked with a team before knows that good leaders need good leadership qualities. ‘Good job, Jason, you’ve really dropped some wisdom there…’ is what I’m hearing from all of you right now. Bear with me though, this is going somewhere, I promise.
I’ve worked in various retail sales teams for just short of the last 10 years and a good portion of that was spent being somewhat of a “team leader”. This doesn’t necessarily mean I was management the whole time – though I was for the last 4 years – but everyone should know that leaders and managers are not always the same thing. In fact, I’ve always felt that EVERY part of the team should share in leadership responsibilities. The best teams include members that all have some form of leadership skill, especially when they are all unique and varied.
I’ll take that a step forward and say that EVERYONE is a leader!
Now I bet you’re wondering, this sounds like some weird leadership training is going to start, when is this going to get nerdy? Well, here it comes. I have also played team based video games for a long time, mainly in World of Warcraft. I see so many comparisons to WoW teams and sales teams where leadership is concerned, so I figured this would be a great place to describe those.
To those who play WoW, you’ll know that the tank is essential to any dungeon or raid you’ll go through. They are the front lines warrior, the guy taking all the big hits, and making sure the rest of the team can operate without interference. Further, it is often the tank that sets the pace for the dungeon and in raids, tanks are very often good fits to lead the raid because it is their job to recognize and manage the biggest threats..
The tank’s leadership in the real world is pretty similar. In my retail environment tanks take the vast majority of the customers or they take the hardest of the hard situations. It is their job, and often natural ability, to take the burden off the other team members to let them focus on their specializations. They may not be the highest sellers, they might not close the biggest deals, but they allow the hot shots to really shine by focusing on the customers and situations that would otherwise hit a bit too hard for others to handle.
Healers are on the same level as Tanks where WoW is concerned. They are responsible for backing their tanks up and making sure they don’t fall to the loads of damage evil creatures are dealing them and they are the emergency paramedics, there to save the day when the whole team starts getting pummeled. If you don’t have a healer, the Tank will quickly be overwhelmed and very shortly after the rest of the party will fall.
Support leaders are those that fill in the cracks of the team. This is the guy that always has the right information, always has the right thing to say, or at the very least knows where to go to get it. When other members of the team need that little bit of support to tip the scales in their favor or need that huge bit of inspiration after taking a blow, the support provides that for them. Tanks don’t always have the answer, so the Support always has to be ready to step in and fill that need. Pro tip about Supports: They do it because they tend to find it most fulfilling to them. They feel validated in letting others shine bright. (If you couldn’t tell, this is where I fall).
The rest of WoW players fill the role of damage dealing and it is this aspect of the team that actually lets the team succeed. They use their highly specialized abilities for melting faces to do just that: melt the faces off any enemy that stands in the way of their team. Every single Dealer in the raid tries to hit the highest damage or the greatest damage over a specific period of time. For all their damage dealing prowess, the term that best describes their toughness is squishy. Like, smash a tomato with a hammer squishy.
In team environments, the dealers are those hot shots I mentioned above. They are the big sellers, the closers, the doers. This style of leadership especially comes into play in a competitive way; they inspire their peers to try and beat them and it becomes every Dealer’s goal to be on top. However, if these leaders don’t have the chance to shine, they can easily fall to the wayside. They can easily be knocked off their horse by adversity or turn their eyes in the wrong direction if distracted. For this reason, they are very dependent on having a Tank and a Support to fill those needs.
Putting It All Together
You may be able to see that those three roles are very intertwined. Let’s go through a couple of scenarios where the balance between these roles isn’t quite good. For the sake of the WoW comparison, we’ll say the team is five people strong in most cases.
Three Tanks, Two Supports
Teams with a combination of all Tanks and Supports may seem like something awesome. Those teams will always have the answers, they’ll always be able to handle all the forces in their way. What could go wrong, right? Well there are a few problems that aren’t immediately apparent. These teams don’t have their own heavy hitters, so while they are going to get through the days just fine, they aren’t going to exceed lofty goals and you won’t really see huge numbers and results from them. In addition, in some environments you can in fact get overwhelmed because Dealers can help get things done a lot more quickly than their Tank and Support counterparts.
On face value, having a ton of heavy hitters would be fantastic. Everyone is achieving and exceeding, and managers might have a hard time setting appropriate goals because there will be times where the numbers will be huge. But what happens when the problems start? Dealers need focus and problems are very distracting. In the face of struggles that they can’t handle, Dealers are also going to suffer from eventual overload and lack of motivation. You just can’t keep working at such a high level when something is always in your way and dragging you down. Tanks and Supports are imperative to take that heat off of Dealers.
One Tank, Four Dealers
In the example above, those Dealers were being overwhelmed. What if one of them was a Tank, problem solved, right? Not quite, what happens when lots of huge question marks get thrown into the mix? Who rights the ship when the Tank takes a huge blow and is on the verge of falling down? What if something happens that no one can stop from hitting every member of the team? Who mends that damage, who takes stress away to allow the Dealers to regain focus? A Support sounds really good right about now, huh?
I’m sure you can think of other scenarios like the ones above where having an unbalanced team could be detrimental to accomplishing goals. If you’re a hiring manager or the ringleader of a team, make sure you hire people that fits the balance of those roles in relation to the needs of your business well. If you’re part of a team and notice a lack of balance, work with your manager or training team to develop into a missing role.
Trust me, after years of working in a close and fast-paced team, a lack of balance – even in the course of a day – can set you back immensely. Prepare, adapt, and be the leader that the team needs.
And as a final note: If you find someone who can fill two or more of these roles, whether simultaneously or by switching back and forth, and can do it well then you must do everything in your power to retain, promote, incentivise, and in any other way keep happy that person. Alternatively, if you are that person, you have the potential to be in a VERY good place professionally. Keep up the good work!