The Actual Game of Life

Funnily enough, in most situations that require a leader aren’t the same situations that one would regard as lighthearted and fun as a game. However, if you break a game down to its core components and mechanics, leadership and games are one and the same. 

Let’s start first with the simplest idea: choosing a character. Although many games don’t have named characters/factions/races/whatever, all games give each player some identifiable aspect. In some games it is a single character, in others you get assigned a color, and in video games you are assigned a player number. In leadership, your followers need to have a way to identify you. Are you known as approachable? Do you use fear tactics? Do you dress in some unique way that can be clearly described as you? In this way, we can also describe leadership as filling out a character sheet for a role playing game, like DnD or Starfinder. Based on your class or leadership platform, you have to figure out how to best allocate your stats and how to build up different skills. Just like bards, leaders need to be charismatic, but how do you know whether charisma is more important than wisdom when you’re standing on the spot in front of hundreds of watching eyes in what may be a life threatening situation? In real life, you don’t have to be stuck maintaining a consistent character different than yourself like you do in an RPG, but is it something that has to be considered at a podium? Unfortunately, in real life leadership, we don’t get a character sheet that clearly lays out our different skills; it’s something we have to figure out for ourselves. Luckily for us, however, we also do not have to make skill check rolls and can save ourselves from potential critical failures. 

Win conditions are also a key part in any game. Technically, there’s no solid way to win at leadership, but there are multiple checklists a person can go through to make sure they are leading effectively. This can include anything from how much food is stocked to how many people smiled at you that day. In games you collect victory points and in leadership you can gain influence by picking up more followers. The key difference in games and leadership in this aspect is that the win conditions of leadership don’t trigger the end of the “game”; you have to continue on or your cause will fail. Leadership win conditions are rather turned into checkpoints. When a player hits a checkpoint, they may save the game and exit, or can choose to follow on to the next checkpoint. As a leader, do you stop once your petition has over a thousand signatures and keep it as a good resume, or do you continue on to college to pursue a degree in political science for a chance to run for senate? Even a preschool teacher must ask himself these questions. He can either simply cover the basics of what his toddler students need to know, or take the time to install a passion for learning inside of them. He then creates followers in his cause of education that may grow up to be leaders of their own. He completes his checkpoint of passing the torch. 

Unfortunately, both games and leadership leave players with setbacks. These setbacks can be caused by other players, a bad hand, or even the environment. Most setbacks are unpredictable and can have dire consequences. Setbacks, especially in games, typically require on your feet thinking. You can choose to get back at the player, redraw your hand or attempt to manipulate the environment for your benefit. Depending on your leadership style and platform, these may not necessarily be viable options. A loving mother shouldn’t hit her child for using Sharpie to color the walls, but she may still feel the need to retaliate through punishment. In a game, these “uh oh” moments are simple, easy and quick to resolve, but it doesn’t work that way in real life. If a parent lashes out and does hit their child, the child doesn’t just lose some gold; they potentially gain lifelong trauma and a lesson that it’s okay to use violence as means of punishment. Your reaction to the setback may act as a catalyst to a whole bunch of other setbacks, which are not so easily resolved in real life.

Strategic players are great at being able to look at the game and see where they will be five turns from now. It’s an amazing skill to have as a leader. If you are able to plan for where you’re headed, it’ll make your path a lot easier.  If you want to become an effective leader, no matter what your platform or essence, you must start by choosing your character. Then, create a win checklist to go through and create a plan for dealing with setbacks. Leadership is a tough game to learn and it’s full of twists and turns, but it’s a damn good one to learn.