Tuesday, April 07, 2015

A chess vs checkers leadership approach

I shared in a post a couple weeks ago that I was going to upload a few things I learned from my latest coaching class on managing & leading. One of those things was the difference between leading/managing from a chess perspective vs. a checkers perspective.

Chess and checkers are similar board games - they even share the same board - but the way they are played is very different. The biggest difference is in the game pieces themselves. In checkers all the pieces move the same way and have the same function (they're all alike!). Anyone who wants to win at chess, on the other hand, has to first learn how each piece moves - from the pawn, to the rook, to the knight, to the queen and king. Each piece is unique, and each has different strengths and weaknesses. In order to play chess you need to understand the ability of each piece and what it brings to the table. Bobby Fisher, the great chess champion, once said, "Winning in this game is all a matter of understanding how to capitalize on the strengths of each piece and timing their moves just right." 

This is a picture of good leadership. Great leaders understand that you can't get the best out of people with a "checkers" mindset - treating them all alike, expecting the same things out of each of them, handling them like some generic product on a shelf - you have to discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.

Each individual person has different strengths and weaknesses, different "triggers" (what motives them), different personalities, and different learning styles. A wise leader/manager will take these things into account; the poor leader/manager will not (and will wonder why they fail to get better results).

I believe this is a very subtle, yet profound, perspective when it comes to leading and/or managing people. Certainly you don't want this to become a way to "use" people, but to not take this approach shows a lack of respect for others and little concern for the organization as a whole.