L3 Qualities- Leadership, Presence, and Charisma

Written by Eric Levine

Written by Eric Levine


What is leadership?

Leadership sounds simple, right?  It sounds especially so in the context of the Judge program, where leadership has an obvious connotation.  You show up, you head judge a PTQ or team lead at a GP, you go home, and you’re done.


But is there more? Of course.  Leadership is not just about being in charge at an event.  Leadership is about working at and outside of events to make sure that you leave the program better than you find it.  One of my professors in my MBA program, Charles Manz, coined the term “superleadership,” which he defines as “leading others to lead themselves.”  This, I think, is a good short summary of what we expect of our Level 3s in the leadership department.  Author and consultant Jim Collins coined the idea of “Level 5 Leadership,” which is much the same thing – a “Level 5” leader does the job well, exceeds expectations, and leaves a legacy so that when he or she is not around, things continue to go according to plan.  (A quick aside: “Level 5 Leadership” does not have anything to do with the 5 levels of judging in any direct way.  A Level 1 judge could be a Level 5 leader!)

So how do we do this?


Leadership: Teaching while learning

A leader is a mentor, before, during, and after events.  As a Level 3, you’ll be receiving messages from judges in your area all the time asking for your advice.  A lot of the time, these questions will be easy; maybe they’ll be clear-cut policy questions or situations you’ve run into before.  Sometimes, however, these will be questions you find difficult.  In a situation like this, the best thing to do is discuss these situations with the judge asking you the question as well as other judges you trust.  Reach out through IRC, the forums, or other channels and find someone to learn from.  Just because you make L3 doesn’t mean you get to stop learning!

At events, this means giving your judges good guidance on how to do things while simultaneously using their skillsets.  If you’re a head judge and you have an issue that needs solving, you might have the solution.  You might not, though, and in this case, you have floor judges and team leaders who have unique skillsets.  Being humble enough to ask for help when you’re in a leadership position does two things: first, it gets the problem solved when you find the person with the right idea or skill, and second, it shows your humility and your trust in your staff.  This is the kind of quality people notice and follow.  The more you do this, the more you’ll learn about the judges you work with and the better you’ll be able to assign them tasks in the future!


Leadership: Take responsibility

Your staff will make mistakes.  You will make mistakes.  This will happen.  When the players notice that a mistake has been made, if you’re the head judge, they’ll come to you and tell you about it.  Most people get defensive when their mistakes are brought to their attention; it seems to be a human social instinct, and it’s one you’ll need to avoid as a leader.  When people bring your mistakes to you, they’re not insulting you.  They’re giving you an opportunity to learn, and you need to humbly take that opportunity.

In a customer service situation like this, humility is required.  If your staff made a mistake, then in the eyes of the players, you are responsible.  In reality, it’s possible that you’re not directly at fault, (if the judge simply made an incorrect ruling, for example) but in a situation where it’s related to tournament logistics, then most likely you had something to do with the error.  Take responsibility and apologize, but also use the players bringing the concern to you as a resource.  Ask what you can do better next time, and players will be much more willing to trust you in the future.  Again, this trust is something you need in your local community in order to effectively run events and be a head judge, so cultivate it wherever you can.

Once you’ve identified the mistake that was made, talk to the judge or judges involved.  Start off by apologizing for your role in the error – perhaps you didn’t communicate your plan well enough to them, or perhaps you forgot about a key part of the task you wanted done.  Discuss with them what everyone could have done better.  Remember, this should usually be a conversation, not a blame session.  Being the head judge doesn’t give you “protection from feedback”!


Presence: Be quiet and loud

Leaders know when (and how) to make themselves the center of attention and when to rein it in.  This, in a nutshell, is the idea of “presence” – as a Level 3, you’re a leader whether or not you’re “in charge” of something, and you have to know how to manage that.

If you do have something you’re in charge of, there are times you’ll want to be the center of attention.  Maybe you need to run a team meeting.  Maybe you need to get the attention of all the players and you don’t have a microphone and a stage.  Maybe you need to take charge of a difficult situation.  You need to be more than just loud; you need to have a confident presence.  Some of this is physical.  Stand up straight, smile when appropriate, make eye contact, and speak clearly.  (Practice in a mirror!)  Most of this, however, is mental.  The biggest keys to presence, I think, are two sides of a coin.  One is planning for situations you can anticipate, and the other is confidence in situations you couldn’t have seen coming.

The first of these two, again, is simple.  If you have a judge meeting to run or announcements to give, you should have a written plan for that.  There’s no reason to walk in and wing it.  Even if you can do that and do it well, it’ll go better with a plan.  When your judges see you’ve got things written down, they’ll feel more at ease.  That builds trust, without which you can’t lead effectively.

Confidence in unplanned scenarios is a little more difficult to cultivate.  (If you really want to cultivate it, though, I suggest doing administrative work for side events at Grands Prix.)  At this point, though, you should have the tools to take care of nearly any situation.  As a judge, you’ve worked a lot of tournaments and seen plenty of strange things happen.  If you’re in a strange situation, what is it similar to?  How is it similar to something you know how to do, and how can you apply that to this situation?  If you can’t find help that way, does someone else on your staff know how to deal with this issue?  And most importantly, how can you solve this issue quickly and with minimal disruption to the event?

The biggest key here is to stop and think.  When one of your judges comes to you with a weird situation that isn’t covered in the documents and doesn’t fall under your umbrella of experience, stop and think critically.  It’s okay to be silent while you do so; in fact, it’s much better than stammering and spluttering at the awkwardness of not having the answer right away.  What do we do about not having enough chairs for everyone?  What should we do with the judge who cut himself on the paper cutter?  How do we deal with the fire marshal showing up and telling us we have too many people in the building?  Stop and think, and remember: in significant and exceptional circumstances, deviation is okay as long as you find a good solution.  (This is not an invitation to deviate whenever you want.)

So these are times when you need to look like you’re confident and in charge.  There are also times when it’s important to lead by example rather than by inspiration.  Let’s say, for example, that you’re leading deck checks at a Grand Prix and you’re doing a check with one of your team members.  If you forget to note the time of the swoop, walk slowly back to the deck checks table, and take the full 7 minutes for the check, what does that say to your team members about what behaviors are acceptable?  You don’t need to be making famous, memorable speeches all day every day at events.  It’s usually enough just to communicate this idea, which I paraphrase from a conversation I had with Jared Sylva recently:

“I know how to do this, and I think I know the best way to do it.  If you help, you can learn the best way too, and you can make this the best tournament it can be.”


Charisma: Be passionate (but not crazy!)

Even if you run a great tournament, people won’t follow your lead if you don’t have passion.  Show your judges you care about them and your event.  Get excited about events in advance and talk about them.  Get invested in the judges you work with.  Show them you care about their development as judges and as people by talking to them at events.  If something goes well at an event, congratulate and thank your judges for making it happen.  Share that credit with them; after all, they were the ones who were out on the floor doing things well.  If something fails at your event, take it seriously and take responsibility, but don’t fly off the handle about it.  If you want to be level 3, you need to care about judging.  Show your passion!


Charisma: Be approachable, not a distraction

We all know a judge who the players love to talk to.  When a player has a story to tell about how they epically won or lost their last round or about how great their sideboard is, they go to that judge and tell it.  Other judges come to this judge at events to talk about rulings, policy, the Commander game they played last night, or whatever’s on their mind.  Charisma is all about being that judge and using that ability for good.

Be willing to have fun at events.  Smile.  When something funny happens, laugh if it’s appropriate.  If players are joking with you, joke back if it’s an appropriate situation in which to do so.  Relax.  At Regular REL, tell the players how cool the foil Jace they opened is.  Get involved in side events when you can, as it’s the best way to meet players and show them that you’re likeable.  Go out with judges after events when you can instead of being a curmudgeon.  (Don’t stay out too late, though!)  If you can earn the trust of your players and judges socially, that trust and respect will apply to you professionally as well.

There is a flipside to this, however: if judges really like talking to you, they might forget that they’re supposed to be passing out match slips or they might miss a player with a raised hand.  Make sure not to be so social and exciting that you make one of your judges miss something.  Definitely don’t get so wrapped up in a conversation that you forget one of your own duties!  Spend a minute talking to someone and then move on.  Don’t be afraid to tell someone (politely) that you have something else to do.



Leadership Again: Lead; don’t micromanage

When I was the Deck Checks lead on Day 1 of Pro Tour Gatecrash, Head Judge Toby Elliott told me I would need to get all of the constructed decklists collected, sorted, and accounted for before the draft.  Did I mention that the first thing happening in the event was a draft and that we would have to collect, sort, and count those lists too?  Obviously, Toby knew going in that this task wouldn’t be easy.  Despite this, he didn’t sit down with me and say “Here’s how I want you to do everything so that everything goes right.”  He trusted me to get the job done, and he let me do it.  I asked the other available team leads and floor judges to help me out as best as they could.  With lots of people pitching in ideas and effort, including Gavin Duggan’s ability to act as a human sorting algorithm, we managed to get the job done on time.  We were very happy when we got it all done, and we felt like we had accomplished something and really created a method that could work at other events.  This all happened, and all Toby had to do was tell me to make it happen.

Toby’s trust wasn’t blind; he knew I had a great team of judges to draw upon and that, with those people, I could make it happen.  Between his knowledge of my experience and his understanding of the experience of the rest of the staff, he didn’t have to worry about it.  Similarly, when I asked the judges I was working with to execute the plan we had come up with together, I knew it would go well because I knew and trusted the judges involved.  This is how you want your head judging experiences to be.  Get the right people on your staff, put them in positions where they can excel, and give them achievable goals, and your events will go well.  If you don’t need to micromanage someone, don’t.  Delegate some responsibility to good leaders on your staff and let them run with it.  Be a resource for your staff instead of a puppet master!



Is there more than all of this to leadership?  Definitely.  This is one of those areas, though, where words are no substitute for the real thing.  Learning by leading and learning vicariously by watching other leaders are extremely valuable, and if you learn one thing from this article, it should be this: take leadership opportunities whenever you can, and take them seriously.  Every single one will teach you something.


Awesome resources:

Authority, Command, & Leadership
– An awesome article by Chris Richter.  Read it!

Level 5 Leadership
– A short description of Level 5 leadership.

Level 5 Leadership: the Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve
– The original Jim Collins article about Level 5 Leadership.  (Only a summary: full version requires payment.  A great read, though.)

Wikipedia: Superleadership
– A reasonable distillation of the idea of superleadership.