Research Results: What Do Gamers Expect of Workplace Leaders?

In December, 2013 I began a research project to explore what online gamers, specifically those who play Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), expect of their leaders at work. Many of you either completed the survey or kindly passed it on to employees who were also gamers. This note is a follow up to share a summary of the results. The full 63-page research paper can be read here: Do MMORPG Players have an Implicit Leadership Theory

The research question that guided my study was “Do MMORPG gamers hold an implicit leadership theory which they carry from the game to the workplace?” The online survey format allowed me to make a within-group comparison, as I asked respondents to choose which leadership characteristics were most important both at-work and in-game play. The survey results show that gamers are able to differentiate between leadership at work and in-game. Many of the characteristics chosen for excellent leadership were either ranked the same in importance, or there was no significant difference. The items that varied in value between the two settings seemed easily explained by the unique mechanisms of the game itself, and by how Guild leadership differs from workplace supervision.

Some of the more interesting contrasts that were found:

 –          “commitment to the team” was very important in the game, perhaps due to the voluntary nature of game leadership, and the high-turnover in group membership leadership traits which demonstrate high Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and support healthy face-to-face interactions were rated higher at-work than in-game

–          “take risks” was rated higher for game leaders, which is not surprising since learning from mistakes is part of a game, and the ability to replay is an inherent feature of the game

–          in both situations, “communicates well” was rated the single most important item. While in-game a leader has many channels for immediate conversation, at work a supervisor may have difficulty accessing their team. Many companies are struggling to implement a more transparent and faster way of communicating. While in-game leaders are expected to be direct and firm, at-work employees valued the “ability to develop a vision” to a greater extent.

It appears from this study that MMORPG players value different things from those leaders they encounter in-game than those they encounter at work. We might conclude then that experienced Guild Masters should not assume that they can use the same skills with their teams at work and experience the same successful results as in-game. Business leaders are well-advised to work on their interpersonal skills and ability to inspire others, whether that be through online simulations or with a coach or mentor who “replays” with them their real-world challenges.

As this study was completely qualitative, the author is interested in exploring the findings in at-work settings. If your workplace would like to host a focus group of MMORPG gamer/employees to interpret the initial findings, please send an email to Jill Malleck at [email protected]

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