Raid leading is an activity that can be both overrated in importance and underrated. Like coaching in professional sports, ultimately the "talent" being managed has the biggest impact on success. No matter how good a leader you are, you need smart, dedicated players. If you have that, though, smart and efficient leadership can either maximize the efforts of those players or leave a little potential on the table.
I do not currently lead a raid, but I have in the past. My thoughts on how a raid should be led are partially based in what I've done and partially based on what I've seen others do while in the raids they led. As my focus on this blog seems to have evolved into thinking about processes in playing World of Warcraft, I thought I'd try to formalize my thoughts on the process of leading a raid team.
I should also note that these principles are meant to apply to guilds that are progression-minded. Guilds who have a more casual, social mission are just as valid and worthwhile, but will probably want to proceed in a different manner.
Follow me, then, on this intellectual raid. I cannot promise you'll get the drops you hoped for, but hopefully the fight itself will be reward enough. </tortured-analogy>
Populate Raids For Fairness Not Inclusiveness
Rotating raid members so that more than the maximum your raid format allows (10 or 25) can play is great...if all the raid members in question are of relatively similar ability. That doesn't mean small variations in ability should deny certain members from ever getting a raid spot, but you don't do anyone any favors bringing people who can't quite pull their own weight, unless it's for farm night. Not only does your raid team start struggling to down the bosses they would have normally, it's not going to fun for the person shoehorned in to feel the pressure of being the reason for the struggles.
Like any other competitive endeavor where spots are limited, you'll create the healthiest environment where implicit competition (that is, the best performers--counting in awareness--go to raids) rules. This does not mean that it should be a hyper-competitive atmosphere, with elitism and trash talk being tolerated. Being dedicated and competitive in no way requires fostering a society of assholes, to put it directly. Assuage your guilt, if you feel it, for not inviting certain people to the progression raid by working with them (if they're receptive) to close the gap. Make sure you get them into farm/alt raids. Your goal should be to legitimately have more qualified raiders eligible for the rotation, not artificially forcing unprepared raiders into the rotation.
Keep Fight Explanations Concise
I'm going to be honest--anyone who deserves a raid spot should already know the general mechanics of any fight that it's plausible that your raid might encounter that night. That means, at a minimum, the encounter your raid team is currently working on and the encounter you plan to get to next. No one should be joining the raid and winding up at the boss pre-pull needing to know how this fight works. If you want to stress a certain point or two about the fight for people to especially focus on, or a quick note on how you might plan to deviate from the popularly accepted way to attack the encounter, that's fine. Explaining the entire fight, every phase and mechanic, costs the raid team time and focus. Many people zone out during long explanations, right when they should be entering a state of sharp focus.
There is one major caveat to this: If you're bringing in a new raider to your rotation, who has yet to enter the raid instance you're doing, it may be that you have five or six bosses on farm and it's the seventh that you're working on. It can be overwhelming to demand that the new raider learn up to eight encounters for the first night (though, it's far from impossible...I've done it!). If this is the case, limit the fight explanations, before each encounter, to just the things that single person needs to know. A new DPS doesn't need to know about the tank swap on Cho'gall. A new DPS doesn't need to know about what to do while flying, against Alysrazor, if they're going to be on add duty. If they would like to know the entire picture of the fight, ask them to consult their local library. For now, they just need to know what they, personally, must do to help the raid defeat the boss.
Again, blasting through each of the twenty mechanics in play on an encounter isn't going to do anyone any good. Not even the person who's benefit it is for...there is little that is more disorienting than getting a rapid fire recitation of three phases, each with six items that occur, that you need to memorize and utilize with no time to process and consolidate the information. Even the new person will be far better off with an explanation laser focused to just the mechanics that they, specifically, will deal with. Wasting precious raid time and benefiting no one is clearly a mistake when leading a raid.
Transparent Loot Council
This is probably going to be the most controversial element of my post, but let's be frank: people, like raid leaders, already have a large element of control over what loot an individual member gets. By selecting who comes to a raid or encounter, they've determined who even has a chance at loot. Crafting materials, often very valuable, are also often not distributed by DKP, EPGP or /roll. Many guilds take the crafting materials for the good of the guild and distribute it later based on their view of need.
So, it's not like the concept of people in the raid or guild making decisions on loot is repugnant to most people. What I think generally is repugnant is a loot council that operates like a secretive cabal. That's when suspicions of favoritism or poor decisions happen.
(I recognize that in many guilds, loot distribution policy is determined by the guild master and/or officers, not the raid leader specifically. In those cases, consider this section to be more "guild management as it relates to raids" rather then specifically "raid leading.")
Let's first go into why a loot council is valuable, assuming this loot council is run correctly (which I'll get into later). Loot serves two purposes: fun as individual fulfillment of getting a new piece of gear and a tool to strengthen the raid to aid in the fun of downing difficult raid encounters. The more progression-oriented a guild is, the more they should want to focus on the second, viewing loot less as individual reward and more as tools to be efficiently deployed in maximizing the raid's overall power.
That is certainly not to say that the fun of personal progression (your individual power increasing) should be completely forgotten--but it should be secondary. That means that a clean rotation of loot is not necessarily ideal; if a piece of loot can best be used by someone who happened to get the last piece of loot, you're weakening the efficiency of the raid if you deem that person ineligible for this piece of loot. There is personal fairness (everyone rotates getting loot) and group fairness (improving the team's chances of winning). The members of a progression-oriented guild should have little problem with prioritizing team fairness over personal fairness--assuming they can be assured that "team fairness" is being served.
That's where we get into transparency. While the initial chatter of the loot council, the back-and-forth discussion if any, doesn't necessarily need to be broadcast to everyone, the reason(s) for the ultimate decision certainly need to be. "TraderJoe is going to get the bow," is not an acceptable statement to the raid. "While both TraderJoe (a hunter) and VicRush (a warrior) can use this bow and the stats can benefit both, the agility will benefit TraderJoe much more and ranged weapon DPS is a huge factor for hunters while it has no effect for warriors. Therefore, TraderJoe will get the bow" is an acceptable statement to the raid. It forces behind-the-scenes favoritism out of the equation--at least, overt favoritism. Favoritism could still rear its ugly head via weak rationales aimed at moving loot to a specific person.
That is why these loot council positions should be elected spots, voted on each month. Presumably, the raid will initially elect the three (or however many people you decide to place on the council) most trust-worthy and knowledgeable individuals in their eyes. If it turns out that any of them were actually ill-suited to the position, that can be set aright. You can vote each week, two weeks, a month...the period is really up to what works for your guild. But they should be accountable for their decisions, so they have incentive to make good decisions.
The fact of the matter is that just rotating loot doesn't always yield the optimal distribution. A lot of guilds will invoke the "common sense" clause in their charter regarding loot distribution, but one person's common sense may not be another's. Involving several people, people that the raid/guild members respect, and keeping those people responsible for making wise decisions and communicating those decisions reduces the risk of bad outcomes and the ensuing guild drama.
There's a saying that the best (conceptual) form of government is a "benevolent dictator." The reason for this is because a dictator can rule most efficiently (lacking the bureaucracy to slow their efforts) but, being benevolent, uses that power for good, not evil (greed, ambition, etc). I'd modify that to say that best form of loot distribution is enlightened loot council. A loot council that is picked for knowledge of how classes work and trustworthiness, can be modified if they overstep their bounds and distributes loot to those best able to use it.
Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?
Decisions. You must make them. Further, you must make them quickly and decisively. It's perfectly reasonable to solicit some input...the bigger the decision, the more input is reasonable. However, when it is during a raid--like deciding which boss to attack next when you have choices--time is of the essence.
As an example, imagine a raid rolled into Firelands on their first raid night doing heroic content. Perhaps their choice was to go after Beth'tilac first and Shannox second. They thought it would take the entire night, at least, to get both down. To their shock and delight, they one-shot both bosses, never having done the encounters before on heroic mode. Great...but now what? They have half (thanks to trash) or more of the raid night remaining. Perhaps the guild knows both the Alysrazor and Lord Rhyolith fight on heroic (from reading up on it). Which boss to go to next? The raid leader, talking it over with officers and perhaps others, takes fifteen minutes to make this determination. In a three or four hour raid night, fifteen minutes is a pretty significant chunk of time. Raiders also lose some focus as they wait around for a decision.
That should not be you. You'll have to make decisions quite a bit...whether it's choosing the next boss, shuffling the raid make-up on a per-fight basis, calling for a wipe in a pull gone poorly or perhaps even deciding when to call a raid night to an end for one reason or another. Taking undue time in making these decisions will not destroy the raid, but it will weaken it a bit, dropping its potential slightly.
The Great Communicator
As a raid leader, you must be a good/great communicator. Your job is not merely to make decisions--it is also to communicate those decisions to anyone affected. Your decisions will negatively affect some people, obviously, and it falls to you to ensure that they are given a reasonable explanation for why they got the short end of the stick. A "reasonable explanation" means an explanation that a mature adult can understand the logic and fairness of, delivered without rancor.
You may at times have to play counselor. Any leadership position involves managing people, which means understanding their concerns and displeasure and helping them get past those without adversely affecting the raid itself. If you don't have patience or the willingness to discuss issues outside of raid times, you can't effectively raid lead. We'd love for everyone in a raid to be an efficient machine that leaves emotion out of the equation--but that doesn't even happen for sports teams consisting of highly-paid athletes. Given that, you certainly can't expect it from a group of people playing a game and playing for your raid for free (by which I mean, the guild or raid doesn't pay them...not that World of Warcraft is free). People will get angry or unhappy or frustrated from time to time, and it is definitely your job to handle it gracefully. If you feel that it's unfair to have to play therapist in a game, then you should pass the raid leadership to someone else.
Finally, you need to foster a sense of camaraderie and good spirit within your raid group. People can play together with no sense of connection, but people in all walks of life tend to perform a little bit better when they're a part of a social interaction that they enjoy. It also makes your raid members more willing to deemphasize personal progression for the good of raid progression and less prone to drama flare-ups.
Leadership Is Just Facilitation
Really, the core idea behind all of these principles is being the person that makes raiding smoother. No more, no less. You're not there to "raise everyone's game" or to be a scolding parent or to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. You're just there to ease everyone else's raiding experience, allowing them to focus purely on their efforts within each combat. If you're doing your job well, people will only notice smooth, enjoyable raids...not you.