Why L3s should send me birthday cards – part 2

Jonah Kellman, L2 from Northampton, Massachusetts, USA

Jonah Kellman, L2 from Northampton, Massachusetts, USA

In a previous article, I wrote about leadership approachability – the challenges some face in approaching judges in positions of authority and the impact it can have on both the program and events. I also indicated that there are some things that we can be doing to help improve our community, but didn’t delve into the details. This article is going to focus on that – these are a variety of methods and techniques that a judge can use to become more comfortable seeking out leaders to talk with or ways for a judge to reduce any perception of being intimidating.

There’s going to be some overlap between these categories – this is a group effort, and what works for one person can be mirrored by another to help improve the program as a whole and ease communication.

Speaking to leaders

If you’re worried about going up to leaders and mentors and asking for their time, that’s normal. No matter how many times leaders say “Come talk to me, I don’t bite!” many judges still have some hesitance. Recognizing and accepting your concerns means that you can begin to counteract them. Be honest with yourself, and be honest with your leaders.

If you believe that they’re busy or that your question is a waste of their time – there’s a way to find out. Ask them! Start the conversation with a question about their availability: “Are you in the middle of something?” or “Do you have time for a discussion about that ruling we just took?” Part of the reason leaders are in their position is because they’re trusted to be able to triage concerns.

An answer of “no” or “not now” is not a judgment on you. It’s possible they are in the middle of a stressful ruling or perhaps the day has been long and they don’t have the energy for more interaction. If you receive a negative answer, ask about setting a future time to continue the conversation. Something like, “Can you find me when you have the chance to talk?” or “Should I ping you about this next week?” Leaders are often juggling many things, so being flexible and scheduling time ensures that you can have their full attention when you do have that conversation.

As a leader

Changes to your position in the program can be slow. You might not realize that you’re seen as a leader or an authority in the program, it happens step by step, as you get used to slightly more responsibility over time. As such, you may recognize that you are intimidating or challenging to approach. As a leader, there are a variety of tools you have available to you to help dispel a perception of being distant or residing in an Ivory Tower.

It can happen in such a way that you see yourself as unchanged from when you started, and you know that you can relate to a judge who is just starting out; but to a judge at their first Grand Prix, the fact that you’ve been trusted on the Top 8, have been asked to Team Lead, or are comfortable just chatting with the head judge can be unbelievable.

Showing your humanity helps bridge the gap. These are techniques that you can use to make yourself more approachable, but they are not required, nor are they the only methods available.

One of the more powerful things you can do is approach others. A common worry from judges is that they’re wasting the leader’s time. If you begin the interaction, you’ve taken care of the approach and shown your interest. In a similar vein, you can solicit questions or discussions, it accomplishes the same goal but requires less direct action on your part. Asking for particular feedback encourages the judges you work with to observe you and to approach you to discuss something that you’re interested in talking about.

You can also discuss your failures – talk about critical mistakes you made, and how you learned and grew from them. Failure is universal and relatable. Talking about errors you’ve made in the past can help ease tensions of those who are worried about screwing up in front of you and damaging their reputation.

Hanging out after events, going to dinners, and participating in drafts are all other methods of demonstrating your humanity. However, one of the challenges with these approaches is that they require being open and outgoing – expending your time in social situations and possibly talking about things that make you personally uncomfortable. The other challenge is that if your interactions are not genuine, but rather only an attempt to become more approachable, they can make you more distant.

You don’t have to send me (or anyone else) birthday cards*, but if you do, it’ll be appreciated, and I’ll definitely talk to you – I’ll approach you.

When you can, take the extra step of genuine appreciation. You don’t have to thank everyone, every time, but when someone goes above and beyond, take the extra effort to make that recognition happen. Whether it be in person, written up as a review, or submitted as an Exemplar nomination, acknowledgment and praise reinforce that you care about the person and are invested in their success.

As a community

Some of you may recognize this as a concern that you used to have but have since overcome. Part of the challenge is that the community elevates the L3s and other members of the leadership – they are the elites of the community, and have had their hard work and dedication recognized by their promotion. However, that recognition, combined with the lack of transparency in the L3 process and selection of leadership roles (both program-wide and for specific events) means that leaders appear more distant than they truly are. It can be hard to relate to someone you don’t feel is part of the community. More senior judges who are comfortable with the leadership can form the bridge between the folks who are intimidating and the folks who are intimidated. Performing introductions, sharing stories, and talking about the human aspects of the community can help.

You can also help act as a filter – have discussions about how to realize when a leader is in the middle of a critical task, or offer to take point on a discussion that they’re worried about. While saying “They won’t bite.” might not help on an individual basis, over time, reinforcing that idea will help. Acting as an example is one of the most powerful things that can be done – that’s how a shift in community perception can and will occur.

Even if you don’t feel like you’re part of the “in crowd” you can help – introduce a peer to your mentor or share stories about your team lead. Help develop a community – we’re stronger together than we are alone.

Above all, respect the judges you work with. If you’re approaching your head judge, and they say that they’re busy, acknowledge that and don’t bother them. If a member of your team asks for feedback, talk with them about what you can provide, and if you can’t give feedback, be honest about that as well. If we treat each other as professionals, with compassion, then it becomes easier to approach people who may be in intimidating roles in the program. This creates an environment where it is easier to talk about the things that interest us, to hear valuable feedback that improves us, and to find people who enjoy spending time with us.

At the end of the day, we are a community with a shared passion for the game of Magic, for running excellent Magic events, and for the people who make up the Magic community.

*If you want to send me a birthday card, let me know, and I can send you my address.

One thought on “Why L3s should send me birthday cards – part 2

  1. Hi Jonah,

    First off, thank you for writing this. I believe this is something important that should be addressed, and also share your (and others) concerns about leadership and approachability.

    With that being said, I would like to tackle something in particular that resonated in my mind:
    “You might not realize that you’re seen as a leader or an authority in the program, it happens step by step, as you get used to slightly more responsibility over time. As such, you may recognize that you are intimidating or challenging to approach.”

    I find this passage a bit odd, since I feel that the concepts of authority and leadership might get mixed up over one single term: responsibilities.

    My take on what leadership is, is that we all have fallen, at some point, in making the mistake that we cannot dissociate leadership as a skill, from authority given by level, position, or responsibilities. I am quite against this concept, as I am a believer that leadership is a choice rather than a position, and that the responsibility of the leader is not related to tasks, but to people. I have known, in every aspect of my life, great leaders with zero responsibility and authority regarding tasks, and great managers with almost no leadership skills.
    At the end of the day, we are not going to gravitate towards that manager, who helped getting all the job done, but to that folk that chose to take care of the people around them; so, which of those folks is the leader here?

    Unfortunately, the program’s structure helps enforcing this association between leader and authority, and at some point it might have to do with cultural mindsets. I would like to hear your thoughts about that, and if you want to, we can continue talking about that in private. I am really interested in what you have to say about this.

    Thank you

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