Chess Not Checkers

When I was seven years old, my dad taught me how to play chess. I’m by no means great at it, but I do enjoy a good game and play whenever I have the opportunity. Over the last year, I’ve been teaching the girls how to play, using the same set that my dad used to teach me. Each piece has written on it how that piece moves. It’s a great teaching set because if you forget, all you have to do is look at the reminder on the piece.

This summer, one of the books our IMPACT group read and discussed together was Mark Miller’s new book Chess Not Checkers.  If you’ve read any of his other books, you’ll recognize the characters, as he continues the storyline.  The main character of the book, Blake, is learning leadership lessons from Jack, a retired CEO.  Jack talks to Blake during their first meeting about how checkers and chess are played on a similar board – 64 squares on both – but the games are vastly different.  To lead a high performance organization, you have to play chess, not checkers. “If you play checkers when the name of the game is chess, you lose.”

We had some great discussion around the table about the book in our group, and I’d highly recommend it to you.  The bold statement above is the one that captured my interest when I first read the book.  How often in organizations are we “playing” using the wrong set of rules?  How often are we playing a simple game when strategic thinking is needed and required?

This is a quick read, but worth your time.  Leaders, if you’re finding yourself reacting, making decisions in a frenetic pace, not thinking through strategic implications of decisions, and barely keeping your head above the waterline with the day to day eating your lunch, you’re playing checkers.  Thinking through what Miller teaches us in this book will help you grab on to the importance of moving to chess.  It’s through strategic thinking, planning, and executing that you will move beyond today and think about tomorrow.  Author Hans Finzel has said “Leaders are paid to be dreamers. The higher you go in leadership, the more your work is about the future.” Leaders know this – but sometimes, we just need to look at the reminder on the piece.

Right now, are you playing checkers or chess in your leadership? What intentional steps are you taking to grow into a better “chess player?”