If you are a judge, you are a leader, whether you want to be or not. For some, that’s an intimidating thought, while for others it’s a major draw. Regardless of how you feel about it, leadership is expected of an L2 in specific, concrete ways, which means it’s a trait you should develop if you’re in the process of advancing. Leadership is a broad term that can encompass many things. You’ve probably got a general idea of what leadership entails, but it’s deceptively difficult to define specifically. It’s easier to get a hold of the concept by bringing up a few things that leadership is not.

Leadership is not authority. While leaders are often entrusted with authority, the ability to exercise authority isn’t leadership. Being put in charge of something doesn’t make you a leader, it makes you a manager. The best leaders don’t often exercise their authority in very obvious ways. This type of leadership involves “tricking people into being awesome,” and it’s much more than a mere exercise of authority. It involves critically thinking about the capabilities of each person you’re working with and giving, or better yet, engineering opportunities for those people to grow.

Leadership is not infallibility. This is related to the previous point. People often associate authority with being infallible. After all, given that the head judge of an event has the power to deviate from the IPG, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the HJ can say anything and it’s automatically right. This isn’t a good way to look at it, though. Being a leader doesn’t mean that every decision you make will be right, so you can do whatever you want. That’s tyranny, not leadership. Rather, a leader bears the heavy yoke of making close calls and the responsibility for their consequences.

Leadership is not isolating. Being the leader also doesn’t mean that if you encounter a problem, you can’t ask for help. Indeed, great leadership is defined by subtly directing others and using their strengths in the most effective way. Even though the HJ has the final word on appeals, and can overrule any floor judge’s ruling, that doesn’t mean that the HJ can’t (or shouldn’t) ask for a second opinion from one of the floor judges if he or she is unsure. Similarly, even though the HJ is ultimately in charge of the pairings boards and table layout, that doesn’t mean he or she can’t delegate this responsibility to another judge (like the logistics team lead).

Leadership is not just for L2’s and L3’s. Even if you’re an L1, you’ve probably already exercised some leadership, even if you didn’t think of it that way. Head judging a local tournament, educating a player about card interactions, and working with a store owner to grow their community are all types of leadership. More leadership is expected of higher level judges, but that doesn’t mean that they get all the fun.

In addition to being very broad, leadership is highly individualized. Everyone’s leadership style is different, which means that you can’t just read one article about leadership and get good at it. The tips I share are things that have worked for me, but your case may be different. This is one trait that definitely benefits from working with a trusted mentor. With that said, here is some general advice you might find helpful the next time you’re in a leadership role.

  • Don’t do, delegate. This is a common issue, especially for judges new to leadership positions. Some judges feel lazy if they aren’t personally doing a lot of activity. As a result, they will perform tasks themselves rather than delegating them to someone else. This is a problem because if a task comes up that only you can handle, it’s important for you to be available to handle it.
  • Avoid micromanagement. This is an issue closely related to the first one: expecting things to be done a certain way, even if it doesn’t matter very much. Ironically, gaining leadership often means giving up some control over how some things are done, since you should be delegating these tasks to other judges. Remember, everyone has their own style of doing things, and unless you think the tournament could be materially affected in a negative way, you shouldn’t insist on your own way of doing something rather than someone else’s. That said, there’s nothing wrong with asking someone why they did something a certain way or proposing alternatives. But at all costs, avoid a message of “Your way was wrong. Do it my way.”
  • Give or create growth opportunities. Whenever someone comes to you with something, think about who you should get to address it. Some things you must handle yourself, for example, appeals or DQ’s at an event where you’re the head judge. For most things, though, the best course is to ask someone else to do it. When assigning teams or responsibilities, strive to give each person a little more responsibility than you’re sure they can handle. People can’t grow if they never go outside their comfort zone.
  • Don’t be a tyrant. As alluded to earlier, a leader works with people to get things done rather than reveling in the authority to make them do things. If you’re head judging an event, a lot of the decisions will be up to you, but that doesn’t mean that you should make them by yourself. Ideally, you should be getting input from anyone who may be affected by the decision, which may include the tournament organizer, scorekeeper, team leads, or others. If it’s your call, don’t be afraid to make it, but be prepared to defend it if someone asks you why you did what you did, and be willing to change your mind if someone brings up a problem with your idea or suggests a better one.
  • Don’t be afraid of screwing up. Related to the previous point, a leader makes a lot of decisions. Just like in a game of Magic, you don’t always have perfect information, and sometimes you’ll choose wrong. A successful leader realizes that he or she will probably make some mistakes, and can bounce back from such a “misplay” to recover gracefully. If something happens that wasn’t in your plan, fix the problem, think about what you can do different next time, and move on. Don’t wallow in regret, and don’t be so afraid of this possibility that you never try new things.
  • Be diplomatic. People respect a diplomatic leader infinitely more. If someone comes to you with a problem, take responsibility for it, even if it wasn’t your fault, you didn’t know about it, or it was unavoidable. Focus on the solution rather than the problem. If someone suggests something to you, thank them and let them know by your words and body language that their idea was heard and and appreciated, even if you know you aren’t going to do it. Know when you need to call attention to yourself, and also when you should step back and let the people you’re leading work by themselves. Diplomacy is so important that it gets its own article, which I recommend you read if you’d like more suggestions.
  • Have a plan. Whatever it is, however you’re doing it, it’s more likely to go smoothly when you have a plan. Coordinating activities of several other people is much easier when each one has a clear picture of what they’re going to be doing. When making a plan, don’t stress about plotting out every detail. Rather, ask yourself “What are my end goals in performing this task? What would a successful completion of this task entail?” Make a plan to address each of those points, and relay it to your team in enough detail that they can do what they need to do, but not so much that they get overwhelmed and zone out.
  • Look out for number one. Being a leader means that more is expected of you in general. People will come to you and make all kinds of requests for your time and attention. Don’t be taken advantage of. If you want a weekend off, tell the TO to find someone else to judge their event or schedule it on a different day. Don’t skip taking a break while you’re head judge to stay on the floor longer. If you’ve got too much stuff going on right now to take on a judge candidate, say so. Saying “no” is one of the hardest judge skills for a lot of people to learn, but it’s vitally important for preventing burnout and keeping from overextending yourself and letting people down.

I’ll close with something that came up in my L2 advancement interview and has stuck with me ever since. The fact of the matter is that once you become a judge, people look at you differently. You may not feel different, but you are. People take what you say more seriously the higher level you are, inside or outside a tournament. It may not be right, and it’s an attitude we work hard to combat within the program, but that’s the way things are.

You can use this power for good or for evil. Few forces can be as positive for a community as a leader who effectively unites Magic players with a common vision. On the other hand, one reason I delayed becoming a judge for as long as I did was because as a player I had some bad experiences with existing judges on this same front. These judges had allowed the respect players often showed them to feed their own pride, and became condescending and unapproachable as a result. More than anything else, I think humility is the key to great leadership. Humility is the antidote to every single one of anti-leadership traits discussed above. If you are humble enough to believe someone else may know a better way than you, you won’t want to micromanage or avoid delegation. If you’re humble enough to realize that you can’t do everything, you won’t have a problem saying no to one more thing to do. If you can handle authority without becoming overweening, people will be glad to follow you and you won’t need to rely on authority to get them to do something. Strive to show true humility whenever you are in a position of leadership.