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Executive Leadership: Are You Playing Chess or Checkers?
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Executive Leadership: Are You Playing Chess or Checkers? - Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Are You Playing Chess or Checkers?

Executive Leadership Articles

Executive Leadership: Are You Playing Chess or Checkers?

Metaphors for executive leadership are as numerous as the stars. Is leading a large company like coaching a basketball team, driving a bus, waging a war, or going on an expedition? The answer sometimes depends on the title of whatever’s at the top of the pile of books on your nightstand, or however your favorite college professor framed his thinking. Mark Miller, in his book Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2015), likens successful leadership to a game of chess, especially as it compares to checkers.

Checkers is a simple, reactive game with very little variation in movement, where each piece on the board has the same abilities as the others. It can be a fast-paced game with very little long-term strategy. Chess is proactive, according to Miller. Not only do long-term strategies come into play, but different pieces have different abilities, and in combination they can have different strengths and vulnerabilities. Chess is proactive and systematic, a much more complex game than checkers, even though the games are played on very similar boards. Sometimes, a smaller or younger company can be managed fine as a game of checkers, but as it grows, the game changes, the board flips, the pieces are replaced, and the company is engaged in a game of chess instead. If it doesn’t notice the shift, it continues to play one game with the practices of the other: probably not a formula for success.

Miller takes the metaphor of the chessboard and categorizes his thinking as four distinct, simultaneous “moves,” titled Bet on Leadership, Act as One, Win the Heart, and Excel at Execution. As descriptors, they leave a lot to be explained, so vague they are as to mean almost anything. The four moves, as the author explains them, really come down to investing in your personnel, working as a team toward the same goals, nurturing and encouraging passion, and delivering the product. Setting the book up as a fictional story, Miller’s main character (a first-time CEO) first learns the moves from his mentor, then applies them in his new company. As the CEO’s team responds to the new concepts, the reader sees these big ideas played out in believable, potential realizations of big, sometimes abstract ideas. This is one of the book’s strengths, using one fictional character to explain a concept while other fictional characters act out the illustrations, and details are left hazy enough so the reader can easily apply the lessons to his or her situation.

As with all management books, its effectiveness and power lie in the reader’s willingness, experience, and ability. If you’ve already established your leadership style, here’s a good inspiration for looking at your existing process a new way, perhaps suggesting some new colors to add to your developing photo. If you’re just taking your first steps into executive roles, Mark Miller’s metaphor can be the framework upon which you hang your developing philosophies, styles, and strategies. Unlike some of the far-too-complicated explications on leadership, the author keeps it simple with only four moves and a few examples of how the moves look when put into action. Miller encourages the reader to understand the rules of the more nuanced game, then to engage everyone aboard in the beautiful maneuvering of the business world’s chessboard.


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Executive Leadership: Are You Playing Chess or Checkers? - Executive Leadership Articles

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