Finding Clarity of Purpose as a Leader (Part 2 of 2)

Continuous Learning, Engaging and Putting It All to Work

*This is part 2 of some reflections from my leadership journey. For a look at the first piece, please see here.

I want to give you a sense of my experience back in the classroom, what I took away from this week of incredible learning, and most importantly, how it helped me crystalize my purpose as both a leader and as a person.

The commitment to a week of time at Harvard Business School’s ALD course was an investment I chose to make towards leveling-up my leadership capabilities and becoming a better leader for Riot.

The class required a substantial amount of preparation. It included reading Discover Your True North and completing some exercises in its accompanying fieldbook, The Discover Your True North Fieldbook: A Personal Guide to Finding Your Authentic Leadership; reading a collection of case studies, articles, and book chapters; and completing leadership-related interviews with five people that have had a significant impact on my life.

The reading materials covered a range of leaders including Abraham Lincoln, Rachel Carson, Howard Schultz, David Neeleman, and college basketball coaches Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, as well as a series of topics including emotional intelligence, performance management, communication, and mapping purpose to impact. While the homework took a great deal of time, it was extremely educational and set the stage for a week of intensive learning and thought-provoking experiences.

The 2019 ALD class, taught by Professors Nancy Koehn and Scott Snook, was one of the largest and most diverse in all the years HBS has offered the program, with over one hundred and sixty leaders from thirty-six countries across more than fifteen major industries.

The first class kicked off with a great quote from Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith’s Learning to Lead:

We maintain that leadership is character. It is not just a superficial question of style, but has to do with who we are as human beings, and with the forces that have shaped us… We find that the process of becoming a leader is much the same as the process of becoming an integrated human being.

The overall course centered around two learning constructs: the classroom and the Leadership Development Group (LDG). Every student was a member of an LDG, which was composed of up to seven other students from diverse backgrounds who were pre-selected prior to our arrival. The members of each LDG lived on the same floor of an on-campus dormitory, sharing a common work space for group meetings, work sessions, and social time.

Each day was structured around two topics, with each topic consisting of a ninety-minute classroom lecture followed by a two-hour discussion session with our LDG. Over the six-day period, we covered: life stories, crucibles, values, self awareness, difficult conversations, finding your sweet spot, relationships and support teams (one of my favorite sessions, taught by Professor Tom DeLong), leadership empowerment, and driving from purpose to impact.

The classroom lectures were excellent, and the LDG sessions were even better, as we dove further into each topic and had deep conversations about our leadership journeys thus far. Some of the discussions were pretty intense, as we were open and vulnerable, and ultimately, we bonded extremely well as a group. By the end of the week, eight strangers had come together as a team, in a very powerful way of helping to support one another and learning from each others’ experiences. I was fortunate to be part of this inspiring, talented group of leaders from all around the world, coming from very different industries, backgrounds, and expertise.

Going forward, we committed to meeting virtually on a regular basis and are hoping to gather together in-person again when feasible. Vanessa, Mohammed, Lucian, Eman, Matt, Jay, Roos and I hope to serve as an ongoing support team for each other.

I plan to complete the HBS Certificate of Management Excellence program over the next couple years, to both continue my connection to academia and improve as a leader. For my next course, I’ve enrolled in Disruptive Innovation, which was created by the legendary management thinker Clayton Christensen, who unfortunately passed away in early 2020. While this course isn’t likely to happen on campus until there is more control over the pandemic, I am already looking forward to leveraging the lessons learned to ensure we’re consistently evolving ourselves and innovating on multiple horizons, as Riot continues to grow.

Reflections and Clarity from 2020

Since our “graduation,” the pandemic has happened. I have frequently taken the time to reflect on my key learnings from the ALD course, in order to ensure I am consistently following my “true north” as a leader. This year really reminded me of the following:

  • Leaders are not born, they’re forged, usually through crucibles, over the course of their lives. Crucibles reshape us as we struggle, endure, and emerge on the other side, hopefully stronger, better, and ready for even tougher situations in the future. The global pandemic has had a huge impact on Riot Games employees all across the world. Even during this extremely tough period, we saw folks step up to help serve players, support their fellow teammates, and give back to their communities, all across the world, time and time again. It was awe-inspiring and humbling to see so many amazing people rise to the occasion and bring joy and hope to those around them.
  • The past crucibles that shaped me: feeling like an outsider for most of my childhood, leaving my family to pursue the dream of making games, building League of Legends and Riot Games, and helping to improve myself and transform the culture at Riot after we discovered we were not living up to who we wanted to be. 2020 was also one of the most challenging years of my life and career, as we continued to evolve our culture and mature the company, while bringing multiple new game experiences to players around the world…all during a global pandemic and major social and political challenges in the US. My purpose has been my “true north” during this period, which leads to my final point.
  • Every leader should have a purpose, agnostic of their current job. This is their purpose across every aspect of their integrated life. I spent a good portion of my life not fitting in and feeling left out. Through learning, laughter, and play, I found meaning and fulfillment, and built my life around bringing people together…to learn together…to laugh together…to play together. This manifested with family, friends, and eventually on a global scale with League of Legends and Riot Games.

Through the wide range of learning and life experiences that have shaped me, I have found my true north. My purpose as a leader is to create a more joyful and inclusive world by bringing people together to learn, laugh, and play. Throughout the pandemic and all of the events in 2020, it became even clearer how important these things are…for all of us.

Chief Operating Officer at Riot Games. Washington University & KU Alum. Roots from St. Louis, MO. Ziggs main in League of Legends & lifelong MMO fan.