I just finished reading, The Gates of Fire by Steve Pressfield which is a fantastic book about the historical (though fictional) account of the battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans (and thousands of Greeks) that fought there. In the book there is one of the best passages I have read about what it means to lead. As an executive producer becoming a better leader is paramount to me and this message really nailed it.
[From The Gates of Fire describing Leonidas (King of Sparta) and what it means to be a leader, told to Xerxes (King of Persia)].
“I will tell his majesty (Xerxes) what a king is. A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch along the wall. A king does not command him men’s loyalty through fear, nor purchase it with gold. He earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads, but provides it to them - he serves them, not they him.”
All of us have heard the phrase, “lead by example”, but leading teams, especially game teams is a lot more complex than that. In Stanley McChrystal’s memoir, My Share of the Task, he outlines 16 lessons learned from his time as a four star general. I don’t want to cover all of them, but a few are worth mentioning, you can read the rest on your own here.
“Leadership is the single biggest reason for success or failure”
If you are misinterpreting that as leaders are the most important people and individuals on teams don’t matter, then you need to re-read the quote above. Leaders serve their teams, not the other way around. In other words, leadership - the act of serving others on a team is the single biggest reason for success or failure. Managing a game team is about giving ownership to the team to solve the problems in ways one person alone could not possibly do on their own.
“Success is rarely the work of a single leader”
Just to further hammer it home, success is not a one person show, nor are leaders just the people who have direct reports. As John Quincy Adams is quoted, "If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
I have a simple rule as a leader, never ask anyone you lead to work longer or harder than you yourself are willing to work. If you feel that next feature is worth staying till midnight to get done right, you better be willing to be there till 1am to see everyone home. If that bug needs to be fixed at 8am tomorrow before the release goes out, then you better be there at 7am with coffee and donuts (I recommend Dynamo Donuts, specifically the apple, maple bacon variety). Let’s re-read that quote from The Gates of Fire as defined for an executive producer.
“I will tell the CEO what an EP is. An EP does not sit within an office while his team toils at cramped work stations. An EP does not go out to fancy dinners while his team stays late and works, nor go home and sleep when they pull an all nighter. An EP does not command his team’s loyalty through fear, nor purchase it with bonuses. He earns their love by the sweat of his own brow and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, an EP does first and finishes last. An EP does not require service of those he leads, but provides it to them - he serves them, not they him.”
- Scott Howard
Beyond my simple rule for those who lead, I have a simple rule for those who report to a leader, and let’s face it, we all report to someone. Never work for someone who is not willing to out work you.