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03 November, 2013

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This appears also on AltDevBlogADay.

Today i was watching Mike Acton's talk at SIEGE 2013 on leadership, and it prompted me to stop the article I was working on to start drafting this. I recommend watching his talk, it's quite good and it talks about the key to leadership: responsibility.

Indeed, leading is about accepting responsibility, it's different from management and its methodologies, and I don't think really it applies only to the people who we identify as "leads". It doesn't come with a tag, really, leadership is a quality that is valuable regardless of your position and most of the good traits of leadership are the same, only the scope, or sphere of influence changes with your job. And that is exactly because leadership it is about responsibility, which is an universal value, even outside the workplace really. 

It's maybe even a pet peeve of mine, I hate when we (and we all do to a degree) think about circumstances or the faults of others, without first thinking about what we did or what we can do. Now, among all that responsibility entails there is something that people shy from talking, something very fundamental that we have to discuss, and the reason I'm writing this. Failure.

If you never failed, you didn't try hard enough really, right? To a degree I think we all agree that failure is important, it is a metric of how much you push yourself out your comfort zone but it isn't in any mean a positive thing, I won't make some hippy case for the contrary. We all want to be successful, we want our programs to work, our games to sell, our research to innovate and so on. 

Success is good, failure is bad... but on the other hand, we don't just sweep under the rug our failures, right? Failures are problems, problems... well that's something we can work on, it is information, it is learning, it is part of our job, it is part of being responsible.

I find it hard not to be defensive, we instinctively are I think, surely I can be and it requires applying quite some thought and attention to detect these instances in oneself. Even what I just wrote is an example of it, I changed into "I can be" my original "I am" because writing something negative about yourself seems to trigger some internal alarms.

Have you ever experienced a studio head coming in and saying words along the lines of "we didn't do well" and "things didn't work out as we expected" so we have to do some crunch and overtime maybe even throwing in a few hints at how that's kind-of normal in our line of business anyways? Would you not have preferred someone saying I was wrong, I approved these decisions that didn't pan out, now we have to ship and I think this is the best course of action, and of course if you want to talk about alternatives come and we will figure things out?

If that's something that you agree and experienced, then be responsible, and apply the same lesson to yourself as well... Wouldn't it be a better world if we knew for example all the interesting ways a given technique fails, not only the ways it succeeds? Why we can't be open about failures? Honesty leads to facing issues in a positive way, it leads to trust, it is a remarkable value. Managing failure is part of leadership, educating about it is part of leadership, and certainly the more influence on the studio culture you have (or should have) the more you're responsible for these aspects, but really it starts with everyone, leader or not. It's a good skill to learn.

Let go of defensive instincts, they won't make anything better.

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