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Leadership and Chess

Chess is an exciting game enjoyed by many, is played internationally, and is viewed as an abstract game of strategy by many. I will confess that I know little about playing chess, but I know that there are lessons that can be learnt from this game in how we lead people.

A clear strategy, personal creativity and calculated decision-making are required to be successful in chess and leadership. The ability to identify and decide which opportunities to take in chess and business are learned skills which I will highlight for the road ahead.

Have A Strategy: In chess, we must have a strategy to outdo our opponent to win the game. Of course, our opponent will also have a plan and will apply pressure every step of the way. As the game is played, we will stick to the original plan if we win but will likely adjust our strategy if we fall behind.

In business, as a leader, we have goals and objectives that need to be met over a given period. Good management practice suggests establishing strategies and plans to deliver against these objectives.

Play Your Moves in a Controlled Fashion:

Each piece on a chess board serves a purpose and has unique abilities and limitations; we carefully examine the board, take note of where each piece is, and make the necessary moves.

In leadership, we play chess very much as we move people around and assign different work and tasks. We develop our staff and give them experiences that will help them be more effective in the future. As with chess pieces, every employee has unique strengths and capabilities. Our role is to position our employees best to maximize the value and benefit of their skills.

Good leaders do not just delegate an assignment to the nearest person; they look at their players and assign work that best aligns with their skills as part of a larger plan and strategy, not forgetting the challenges of other variables like changing customer needs, business limitations, corporate restructuring, and such. Still, our approach to pivot takes place in a series of small moves through challenges.

Always Be Two Moves Ahead:

In chess, they say good players must be two moves ahead, anticipating the opponent’s moves, monitoring change, and thinking about how to counter, which requires active planning with practical activities.

Good leaders often do things that go unnoticed because they are two steps ahead. For example, we may assign work to help develop skills in anticipation of a significant project for the team. Leaders must do things deliberately in anticipation of the next move, always forward thinking.

At its basic level, leadership is about strategy and moving people around to build a successful team to meet goals. So, while only some of us may become professional chess players competing on the world stage, we can learn from the skills and employ them to make us better leaders for the road ahead.


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