Digital Leadership Skills Transfer to the Real World

“Video games will rot your brain!”

“Video games, who needs those when you have the outdoors?”

“Video games are a waste of time.”

These and more were common statements I heard growing up. Video games are still a scapegoat for the media.

Perform a simple Google search for “video games cause ____”, and Google will return hundreds of articles that claim they cause everything from violent behavior to lower grades and obesity.

For decades all around the world, however, video games have been used as teaching tools, educating kids on a plethora of subjects like history, pattern recognition, critical thinking, and more since the early 1990s. (Think Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail, Tetris, SimCity, Starcraft, etc.)

If games can teach us how to recognize patterns, develop plans of action, think critically, manage resources, problem solve and more, could a game you play online help you develop leadership skills that you can apply in RL? (that’s real life for those who don’t speak gamer)

Welcome to the Dark Side

In 2008, while playing countless hours of Call of Duty 4, I joined a gaming clan, called Dark Side Alliance (DSA for short). Star Wars nerds are my favorite type of people.

I was given the opportunity, within a few months of joining, to lead a team in a scrimmage.  I prepared my plans, practiced situations with my team and was extremely confident that we could win. Initially, the match looked grim. In the end, we pulled off a comeback on par with the 2004 Red Sox.

This match sparked the interest of the upper echelon and within a matter of months, I was promoted to a prominent leadership position, developing strategies and running weekly practices.

In the three years that I was in command of the Call of Duty division of DSA, I learned more about leadership than I ever expected.

Many of those lessons were applicable to the handful of jobs I have had in the last seven years, and even now influence how I approach clients as a fitness coach.

Lessons From a Video Game

Don’t Give an Order You Are Not Willing to Do Yourself

Remember the scene in Office Space where Lomberg comes in and tells Peter that he is going to need him to come in on Saturday?  Guess who wasn’t there on Saturday?  Lomberg.

No one likes “that guy.”


Leaders like Lomberg, are constantly replacing team members or find that their team never seems to accomplish their goals. No one wants to work for a jerk.

Great leaders lead by example.

If you have to ask your team to work on a Saturday, be the first one there and don’t use that time to goof off while everyone else works because you are “supervising.” Get your hands dirty and let your team see that you are willing to do the grunt work on the weekend.

In fitness terms, no one likes burpees.  Burpees are worse than working on Saturday.

There is no Perfect Battle Plan

My grandmother once said: “shit happens.”

Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke at one time said, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Grandma was a little more concise, but I think their points are similar.

I had some excellent strategies in Call of Duty but many of them never survived contact with the enemy. If achieving our objective meant handing the enemy killstreak after killstreak, it was probably a good idea to change up tactics or the plan.

So you improvise and think on the fly. No matter the industry you are in, shit will happen. You can devise the most strategic plan to achieve your objective, but I can guarantee you it will never follow the path you intended.

Be ready to think on your feet and be prepared to make swift and sometimes challenging changes.

I learned that very quickly as a coach this summer with my boot camp. I had what I thought was a perfect plan but in the first week, I had to switch a few exercises and slightly alter my plans. Have a plan but be confident enough and ready to make changes when challenges arise.

Stay Frosty

Those two words are the wisest words ever handed down to me by a high-ranking DSA member. When you are winning, it’s easy. Everyone is happy, making jokes, kicking ass and having a good time.

How do you handle the times when you are losing and frustrations are high?

What do you do when your team comes to you frantic, disheartened, and frustrated after the third air strike in a row comes down on them, or they are pinned in a spawn point or the battle plan is not working at the moment?

As a leader, you above all have to keep a calm and cool head. As a coach, I have to do the same. Slip ups will happen in a weight-loss plan. Injuries can occur. Weight loss can stall or increase.

Then there are the “bad days” where you eat a half-gallon of ice cream, (sh)it happens.

Good coaches know this, and they know the best approach to getting the client back on track is to “stay frosty,” you will never empower someone to make changes by berating them or belittling their efforts.

“The only prerequisites to leadership are that you remain positive, calm, and open-minded.” — Alexis Hunter

How to Bring Up Issues with Higher Leadership

DSA operated under the same military hierarchy as the Empire (Star Wars nerds are the best. Suck it Trekkies).

If you have worked in the corporate world, a structure like this is a familiar concept.

What do you do when you have an idea that could change your work operations for the better? Do you present this idea to your boss or slink away and keep it to yourself?

The leadership in DSA championed those of us who actually came to them with ideas as opposed to the wankers who moaned and complained behind their backs.

Approach your boss or supervisor with confidence and ask them if you can present your idea. Lay out your plan with the positives that it can do if implemented but never attack their ideas or thoughts or current actions. When you put people on the defensive, they are much less likely to work with you or consider your ideas.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gal”

Quick side note, your boss nine times out of ten will always find out what you have said behind their backs, so watch yourself.  That includes being drunk at a bar, intoxicated and playing video games with people online, and blabbing your mouth as loud as possible to everyone you know or work with.  Be the bigger man/woman and approach leadership with concerns instead of bashing them behind their backs.

Know Your Teams Strength

When I was an Office Operations Supervisor for the 2010 US Census in NC, one of the most important lessons I applied from my leadership role in DSA was understanding my team’s strengths.

When it came to gaming, I knew what roles my teammates were optimal in.

From snipers to aggressors, to support and even your stealthy ninjas, I knew the best ways to handle situations because I knew the strengths and weaknesses of my comrades. So when I became a supervisor within a government office, I set out to apply those same tactics.

Once I understood what skills my team possessed and in what role they would best shine, my job got far easier and more enjoyable.

Even as a fitness coach now, I work to understand where my clients excel and how they can use those strengths to empower and better support the areas where they struggle more often.

Know your team and know them well.

Understanding the capabilities of those you lead and giving them the opportunity to display those abilities will not only lead to success but a far happier and more inspired team.



I know many people who consider Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” as quintessential in their development as leaders. I’m sure there would be some who claim this book changed their lives who may scoff at the notion of learning leadership skills from a video game.

Even so, games like Carmen Sandiego taught me geography. Nintendo games taught me pattern recognition. Hell, today Minecraft is teaching kids about resource management as well as allowing them to unleash their creativity, as LEGOS did in my childhood.

Is it too far-fetched to think that multiplayer games like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft could teach people the values of leadership? I believe games can teach us a lot more than how to push buttons, shoot aliens, or flick birds at pigs.

No matter where I go in life, I will be proud to say that I learned important lessons about leadership while playing a video game alongside the most wretched hive of scum and villainy I have ever known, men that to this day I consider family, my brothers in the DSA.

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