I enjoy reading about changes to this site. The improvements TA has undergone have been significant and much appreciated. The significant mod staff here deserves a lot of thanks for their hard work in making this site a better place. But, in several news posts spanning over months, I've noticed that at least some mods really have a hard time with criticism. That's not really unusual in any venue, and I'd forgotten about most of it until I saw the posts announcing the new genre system, and the posts seemed to spend more time trying to defend against an assumed flood of criticism (and shut it down before it started) rather than merely outlining the changes.
As such, I felt like listing some of my thoughts about leadership, specifically as it relates to running an online operation (such as MMO guilds or forums):1) Criticism is not the enemy:
Assuming criticism is a negative is a bad place to start one's line of thought. In the online world, not all criticism is constructive. Trolling is very common. However, choosing to take all forms of criticism as an attack on the decisions of leadership does more harm to you than good. Why? Because the critics think you are being insular, that you think there are two tiers of people: the leaders and everyone else.
There is no harm in trying to minimize criticism, and I think simple statements help best with that. Things like "we are evaluating how this works for a while" work fine. But trying to stop criticism from entering during that period is a big mistake. Rather, you should formalize a process for complaints to be received. For example, a dedicated thread for people to list issues they have with the genres as currently organized would have been a great way to channel all that criticism into a single location. After all, when you have obvious decisions that will cause controversy (fighting games not being a tier 1 genre while flight is rather than being placed under simulation, to cite one example I recall reading), trying to get people NOT to complain just isn't going to work. It'll just piss them off.2) Transparency is king:
Leaders don't have to be transparent, but in my experience I've found the more transparency the less criticism. I've been in leadership roles in forums and MMOs, and saw all sorts of different approaches. Those that were most closed to "outsiders" tended to make decisions faster, but they also got accused the most of playing favorites, ignoring realities, or otherwise disenfranchising those that were using the forums/doing endgame with you.
People like to know. Even if they don't have a direct voice, they like to understand. Summaries of how decisions were made being provided (upfront) can save you on a lot of drama later.3) Hold votes when possible; mods do not need full control:
If you're dealing with something that can be voted on by the membership, why not use it? This came to my mind on this forum specifically back when the GOTY votes were happening. Members got to vote on various genres for their favorite 2010 games, but they didn't get to weigh in which games made up the short list within each genre. The mods who made such choices ended up getting quite defensive when their decisions were questioned by dozens of comments.
Should the members have gotten to choose the finalists? That's irrelevant; should or shouldn't isn't at issue (in my opinion there is no "right" or "wrong" answer to that). The mods should have known that determining the short lists internally would generate criticism. So, they either should have been fine with such criticism (ideally following my earlier recommendations and exposing the discussions from the get-go to provide transparency), or they should have done a voting process in order to remove them as a focal point of criticism. The excuses provided just ended up frustrating users who upped their criticism and, in turn, upset the mods even more.
(As an aside, using excuses about time consumption really do ring hollow with categorical contests like the GOTY awards. Those votes could have all been held simultaneously since they were independent categories. The Oscars aren't selected one category per week; they vote all at once.)4) Recruit your vocal critics:
The most vocal critics tend to be the most passionate members (barring those that just like to stir the pot; such people tend to be easily identified). Bringing such individuals on-board as mods can help focus their energies from commenting their outrage (really the only vehicle the membership has to attempt to make changes) and instead working internally to implement reforms. Such people also tend to become excellent at communicating to the membership and defending leadership decisions, as they tend to better understand the membership's perspective (generally speaking, the longer one is on a leadership team, the more one loses sight of the perspective non-leaders have; part of this is because leadership is a sort of "club", but mostly it's just because when you see all the information flowing in it affects your decisions and it becomes easy to forget others don't have access to that same information).5) Accept you can't please everyone:
There will always be people who hate a change. Always. As long as you've done due diligence to keep them informed and explain why the change was made, the best you can do from there is listen to their criticism.
Being a mod or in any online leadership role is stressful. I saw a ton of people burn out (as I myself did) with the level of work it takes. I think this gets lost in the online venues because it's so easy to get a leadership role (a couple clicks and bam, you have mod status), and people see the posts/tasks mods do and don't really understand how much actual work it takes to do it right until they are trying to do it themselves. So, my hat is off to those on TA who have chosen to be in the leadership roles. I doubt any will read this, but I'd been meaning to list out these thoughts for a while now anyway, and a blog works as well as Notepad I suppose.