Have you ever played a game of chess, and moved the pawn in a sacrificial position enabling you to take control of the board in what seemed like a game winning decision, just to realize it was a fatal mistake? I have. Have you ever counseled a subordinate or peer, offering what seemed like sound advice at the time, and think back later and question your advice? I have. Have you ever said the right thing at the right time, and find out it wasn’t? I have done that too. Chances are, as a good leader, you have as well. You take chances. You make decisions. You do your best. What does this have to do with chess?
The game of chess takes years of practice to become a superior player and a master strategist. Most of us have played the game, but how many have mastered the strategy of chess? Did you know that you can lose a game of chess in just 2 moves? This is call Fool’s Mate. If you are not careful, you can fail your team in just 1 move.
In the game of chess, the player must utilize all pieces in front of them in order to win. All pieces are important to every player and must be utilized in some way – defensive or offensive – to win. Is the pawn just a piece to be discarded so the rook can take over the board? I say no. The pawn can take out other pieces (offense) and block the movements of other pieces (defense), as well as force the other player to take the pawn and utilize a turn. I am not a great chess player – my 11 year old son can beat me! The point is, all pieces are important to the game.
Leading people and managing projects is just like a game of chess. A good leader must understand the skills of their team, where they are best suited to succeed, and know how to leverage their skillset. The status and goal of the team’s projects must be managed at all times. This does not mean micro-managing the team or project, just management and understanding. The leader must lead the team and manage their projects in such a way that team communication, collaboration, and effort move in unison in an intentional fluid motion towards success. This takes time and practice.
Chances are, if you manage a large team, you are a strategist, coordinating the efforts of your team instead of “doing” things such as answering customer support calls, installing a computer, or welcoming someone to your building. As you lead your team, you are moving the pieces within your board to accomplish the team’s goals. You may even have a team of subordinate leaders who are responsible for training and leading your pawns, rooks, and bishops. You are the chess player for your team and you are responsible for their well-being.
You may not feel you are the best player or leader, and sometimes you may even wonder if what you are doing is providing value (I have). Every team needs the chess master, at least the master in training. So what do you do if you make the mistake and provide the right advice at the right time and realize it wasn’t? Learn from your mistakes and move on. Share your experience with your team. Showing that you make mistakes will demonstrate to your team that you are the chess master but you are also learning with them.
Whether you are the pawn, rook, or the chess player, do your part on the team. One day you will become the player, or chess master, and someone will look to you for the right advice at the right time. And you will be right.
Jared W. Snow