In our leading and implementation of strategies are we more checker players or chess players?


Are you more of a chess or checkers (draughts) player when it comes to planning and implementing a strategy in your organisation?  These board games generally played amongst friends, unless you play chess competitively, can assist us in reflecting and thinking about our style of leadership and implementing strategies.

One of the differences between the games is the length of time a game usually takes. Chess generally takes longer because of the variables in strategy that need to be weighed and considered.  Anyone who has been in leadership and sought to implement change, knows this fact.  Organisations are like mobiles we hang over the cots of babies and toddlers.  Touch one of the figures on the mobile and the whole mobile begins to move.  So, with organisations.  One move, one change sets off other changes that can catch a leader by surprise if they have not taken the time to consider the possible consequences.  

For example, implementing a new IT program to make the work of staff easier is never just about implementing the IT program.  It is about working with the staff member who lacks self-confidence and believes they cannot learn new systems; it is about convincing staff members who believes they are working efficiently and effectively that the new system will make their work easier to manage.  It is also about convincing those staff members who despite what they have been told, still believe the new system is an attempt by management to exert greater scrutiny and control over their work.

A leader whose style of leadership is more akin to checkers, that is they see the end goal and jump over the opposition often look back and wonder why people have not followed them or the strategy they tried to implement has not been successful.

Leadership that is more akin to chess, takes the time to think through the implications of various moves before acting. This does not mean the strategy will cover every facet of change.  In implementing change or strategic plans there is always the unexpected, the situation that suddenly arises out of nowhere. However, when strategies are considered, there are often options that can be taken when the unexpected arise.  

Where a person implements a checker like strategy there is less option for flexibility and change once there has been a commitment to the direction.

One of the other things with chess is each chess piece has its unique way of moving, bishops move diagonally, the castle can move vertically up and down the board or horizontally.  In checkers each piece has to move diagonally across the board until it is crowned king.  Often when we are thinking through implementing strategy, we limit ourselves by seeing one direction, which is usually forward.  Chess teaches us there are many ways to move in implementing strategy.  

Sometimes we may move sideways, sometimes we may even retreat.  If we have locked ourselves into thinking we can only move in one direction, this flexibility can feel like defeat.  A chess player knows moving the castle or rook back down the board may appear a defeat but may ultimately win the game.

This is where, if we have not taken time to critically reflect on our perceptions and biases, they can work against us when we are in positions of leadership. If we perceive making a tactical retreat will make us appear weak and we are afraid of losing face, we may refuse to make such a move, consequently our overall strategy will be weakened.  As leaders we need to be aware of our perceptions and our biases and how they can negatively impact what we are achieving.

A leader who is a chess player takes their time to consider their options.  They do not allow themselves to be rushed by other people’s agendas.  A leader who is a chess player knows they can be limited by their perceptions and biases of what they perceive as weakness, failure, or retreat.  Such a leader examines these biases and perceptions, so they give themselves as much freedom as possible in terms of how and in what direction strategies are implemented.

The final thing about the strategy of chess playing is the chess player thinks through what pieces they are prepared to sacrifice to achieve the goal.  Sometimes in achieving outcomes we have to be prepared to make sacrifices, however if we do not think through what we are prepared to sacrifice we end up sacrificing the wrong thing or too much.  We give away too much of ourselves, too much of our energy, of our time and we wonder why we are burnt out and exhausted.  Or we give away too much of our integrity for the company or organisation.  Once given, the integrity can be difficult to recover.  A good chess player is clear eyed about what sacrifices they have to make and what they are prepared to lose to win.  Being clear eyed, avoids the mistake of sacrificing too much.

In our leading and implementation of strategies are we more checker players or chess players?