Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chess not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game

Title:  Chess not Checkers:  Elevate Your Leadership Game
Author:  Mark Miller
Publication Information:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 2015. 144 pages.
ISBN:  1626563942 / 978-1626563940

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Leading has never been easy."

Favorite Quote:  "You're already paying for their hands - and with every pair of hands you hire, you get a free brain. They key to unlock that brain lies in the heart. When you get the head, the heart, and the hands, you've tapped a deep well of passion, creativity, and performance."

Mark Miller, co-author of The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do, uses the metaphor of chess and checkers to demonstrate the shift in leadership style needed to manage as an organization grows in size and complexity.

Chess is defined as a "game of strategic skill for two players, played on a checkered board." Checkers is a "game played by two players on a checkerboard." The players are the same. The board is the same. What differs is the pieces and the strategy. Checkers pieces are all the same with all playing a similar role. Chess pieces are more specialized, with individual strengths and weakness, working together to accomplish a goal.

So, claims Mark Miller, it goes with business. A new business is a little like checkers, quickly changing with every player fulfilling every role as needed. As the organization expands, however, roles specialize as with chess pieces, and a leader must develop the organization and the people with a vision of the future and a way to maximize individual strengths. Leaders who do not take that strategic leap flounder. Playing chess when checkers is called for can lead to failure.

The case study in this book is Blake Brown, who gets the opportunity to step in as the CEO of a company with about fifty employees. The company has sales of several million dollars, but the sales are stagnant. He finds an organizational dynamic that is not working, but he cannot quite determine the changes necessary. He finds a mentor in a retired CEO, who, through several meetings, leads him through the idea of identifying when the "game" has changed, identifying and developing organizational leaders, ensuring that organizational roles match individual strengths, ensuring a common understanding of values and goals, engaging the entire organization in the plans and strategies, and focusing on effective execution.

These ideas are reinforced several times even in the short span of the book. Each meeting between Blake and his mentor focuses on one main idea. After each meeting, Blake takes the idea back to his organization. The management team discusses the idea, allowing the key points to be reiterated. Blake brings results back to his mentor, again allowing the key ideas to be reinforced again. The printing of the book, through font sizes and text boxes, clearly sets apart the main themes. Thus, a reader can easily skim through and find the lessons of the book or read the story that goes with it.

The case study in the book is perhaps a simplified view of what is no doubt a very complex situation. John, the staff member who is not ready for change, is vehement in his opinions to the point of getting himself fired. Suzy, the staff member who emerges as a leader, does so almost instantly and completely. The buy in from the existing management team comes quickly as well. However, the simplification of the example does not mitigate the strength of the idea. As with The Secret, the ideas of this book are not new, but the book packages them into a clear vision. It can be read in one sitting and easily understood. The metaphor itself is simple and powerful.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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