Chess is a game that I can honestly say, that I’m ok at but would not do well against a seasoned player. I do love the concept of chess though. Utilizing the same starting resources with the winner being determined by strategic planning and ability to adapt to their opponent.
We can find leadership in chess in a few different ways that wrap around strategic thinking.
You need to understand everyone’s role
The first step in learning how to play chess is to understand the roles of all the pieces (how they move, what they should do, priority, etc) so that you can actually begin to play the game.
The same has to happen with your team in order to be effective in your job. Yes, it’s important to understand the literal job that they sit in and what that role encompasses on the team, but it’s just as important to get to know the person to understand what unique talents and abilities that they bring to the table.
Knowing just about the role on the team without the personal context is like knowing only half of what each piece does. Can you still win? Sure, with easier challenges and opponents. You are going to be quickly taken out of a game though if you go in this way against a seasoned player.
Learn your people’s passions, talents, and motivators to take their role on the team over the top. They can help you move your strategy in a way that you may not even realize right now.
The best always think ahead
Good chess players are playing their turn, but they are thinking about several moves ahead. Playing chess can help you be a great strategic planner.
I use the chessboard analogy quite a bit when teaching leaders about being strategic when they think about the future of their talent and the strategy of the team and organization.
The idea is that you start with a hypothetical that is rooted in the real world and then you begin to play out how you would react and what your next steps would be.
For talent, we typically start with the hypothetical sudden opening in a key role. Who is the next person? What happens if that option doesn’t work out? Who is the backfill for the new role? Who is the backfill’s backfill? You can quickly find out where your strengths and opportunities are with the current and future strength of your team when you run scenarios like this.
For your business or goals, it’s a similar concept. Start throwing what-ifs into your work routine that are grounded in reality and probability. They can be rooted in business goals or maybe more soft skills in nature. If the business plan doesn’t take off like planned then what? How do I lead my people if someone were to, unfortunately, pass from COVID?
Running these with yourself and your team on occasion are always worthwhile time investments. We actually call this type of exercise chessboarding when we do it with other leaders.
Things change and you have to adapt
Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out like they were planned to. Life happens! In chess, you may have to change your strategic plan and begin reacting and changing your plan based on an unexpected move from the other side that just occurred.
Help your team see the changes before they occur and equip them to communicate their thoughts to you and the team as they occur. Some of the best companies in the US to adapt early to COVID saw what was happening in Asia and Europe and got ahead by beginning to change plans before it hit them. You’ll need to have a high degree of trust and respect built up between you and your people in order to be great here. They need to understand that you will value and take to heart their guidance and you need to trust they are thinking through things with the right mindset and have the right level of perspective for the issue at hand.
On a smaller scale, think about how you react to the smaller changes that happen to you on a regular basis? Does it wreck your day or stop productivity, or do you make a quick plan, adapt, and move on?
Handle change, both big and small, well to keep your plan moving forward.
Just as in chess, you’ll be a better leader when you understand what challenges you’re up against (The other player) understand your team well (the pieces) that execute on your plan well while being flexible to adapt along the way.
Make a better tomorrow.