Roll for initiative

Article by
Aaron Power

How D&D taught me servant leadership 

A table erupts

Popcorn, pads, and pencils fly as everyone jumps off their chairs. With a warm rush of triumph the party defeated a razor-fanged sea serpent. This is why Dungeons & Dragons is so special.

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a fantasy board game invented in 1974. 4-6 players, called a party, and a Dungeon Master work together to complete an epic campaign. The DM is hidden behind a screen and tells the story, enforces the rules, and pretends to be the characters and monsters. Each party member plays a hero with unique skills, like a powerhouse barbarian or a sneaky rogue. 

D&D is all about making decisions and rolling a dice to see if you succeed or fail. You could trip on a stone at a critical moment or climb a 60 foot wall despite your fear of heights. Recently, the game has become a world-wide phenomenon and is played by well-known names, like “The Rock”, and has even become an Amazon Prime Show – “The Legends of Vox Machina”. Not bad for a paper and dice game.  

I play as the Dungeon Master, which means I carry a lot of responsibility. My first campaign was a real challenge because I was grappling with the rules, unsure how to tell a story and worried everyone was having a bad time. Despite such a supportive environment I didn’t want to let everyone down. But after a few wobbles and plenty of shaky dice rolls, I did it. I led the party. With each campaign I got better. I learnt how to get the best from the party and encourage everyone to roleplay. Monsters and quests became opportunities for the party to shine. In time I honed a new leadership style called servant leadership. This style is based on the idea that;

“As a leader I serve the team, not myself. I remove barriers and help them to be the best version of themselves”.

As a servant leader you take a back seat 

Servant leadership is the opposite to a traditional “command and control” leadership style. You share power and deliberately enable the team to reach their potential by removing barriers. Their overt success is your quiet reward for understanding and leveraging what makes them special. Done right, the team delivers outstanding value and you can build a reputation for being a humble nurturing leader. Despite some reservations, you can begin to see what makes servant leadership so powerful. 

My experiences as a Dungeon Master and servant leader have also shaped my professional life too as a Consultant at Redvespa. The lessons I learnt serving the party (and slaying cave trolls) enhanced my ability to empathise with clients and identify a pathway forward which they can champion. It’s led to outcomes that delight and established rapport that goes beyond workplace courtesies. You see the best in people, and that’s exactly what you get. 

This physiology permeates across our team and it’s part of the reason why working for, and with, Redvespa is so rewarding. 

Servant leaders ask questions of themselves, not the team

If you’re curious to try servant leadership, ask yourself these questions during your next project. You might be surprised by what you find:

  1. What does this team need me to be?
  2. What does this team need to do their best work? 
  3. What excites this team? 
  4. How can I amplify their brilliance?  
  5. If I stepped aside, what would be left behind? 

Until next time, let’s “Roll for Initiative”.  

Aaron Power is a Dungeon Master and facilitator who uses his key strengths of creativity and quick-thinking in any environment. Whether you're facing a Demogorgon, or simply want to understand and refine your business processes, Aaron is someone you want in your corner.

Photo by Clint Bustrillos on Unsplash

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