Feb 20, 2008

Leadership and Multiplayer Online Games

Paul Hemp posts on the HBSP site (via steve rubel on Twitter):

An article I’m editing for an upcoming issue of Harvard Business Review provides a glimmer of hope for all of you med-pots out there – and offers some disturbing food for thought if you’re in the business of leadership development.

The piece – by Byron Reeves, Tom Malone, and Tony O’Driscoll – argues that multiplayer online games, such as Everquest and World of Warcraft, give us a sneak preview of what leadership will look like in tomorrow’s business world. A study of these games found that people who’d never be identified – or identify themselves – as candidates for a real-world leadership training program are able to effectively lead teams of dozens of players on strategically challenging missions. That’s because certain games’ characteristics – non-monetary performance incentives, data transparency, temporary leadership roles that give people the chance to practice their leadership skills – make it easier to be an effective leader. One implication for real-world organizations: There may be large and untapped reservoirs of leadership talent that you don’t know you have.

This echoes a theme in the interview in the interview I did with HBS professor Linda Hill that appeared in the January issue, entitled “Where Will We Find Tomorrow’s Leaders.” One of Linda’s key points is that organizations risk overlooking potential leaders because they are “invisible” – that is, lack the high-profile personal characteristics such as compelling communications skills that we associate with leadership. Ironically, these invisible leadership candidates may in fact possess characteristics – for example, modest egos that don’t get in the way of collaborative work – that are ideally suited to tomorrow’s business environment.

One reason I think most organizations do a bad job of identifying leaders is that they confuse the outer expressions with the underlying behaviors of people.

Most organizations really don't do a good job of articulating behaviors that a leader needs to build and showcase. Top management and board's tend to focus too much on financial success in the past than behavioral aspects of a leader, not taking into account that past successes are also contextual to processes and teams that might not be the same in the current organization.

Related article: Developing People for Leadership