Chess Not Checkers: A book review by Bob

Chess Not CheckersChess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game
Mark Miller
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. (2015)

Beware of Whack-a-Mole leadership and management

I have read and reviewed all of Mark Miller’s previous books, including Great Leaders Grow and The Secret (both in collaboration with Ken Blanchard) and consider him one of the most observant and insightful business thinkers in thought leadership. Once again in Chess Not Checkers, he calls upon his highly developed skills as a raconteur to provide information, insights, and counsel in the form of a business narrative. That is, he establishes a setting, introduces characters, builds tension with conflicts that occur during the plot development, and eventually there is a climax with resolution of the key issues.

The details of this narrative are best revealed in context. However, I am comfortable suggesting what the major issues are that Miller addresses, based on his own wide and deep background in leadership, management, personal growth, and professional development. These issues are involved when attempting to answer questions such as these:

o How best to identify the most important questions to ask and the most difficult to solve?
o How best to identify those answers and solutions?
o How to balance collective judgment with individual initiative?
o Every “game” has its rules and some games are more complicated than others. How to decide which game and how best to play it?
o How to keep score? That is, how to measure what is most important?
o How to create a sense of urgency to obtain buy-in for proposed action?
o How to create a sense of “One for all, all for one”?
o How to get talent and work in proper alignment?
o How to know when to stay the course, change it, or end the given “journey”?
o To what extent should a “turnaround mindset” be sustained after a turnaround has succeeded?

The new CEO and the other players in Miller’s narrative face the same questions, problems, challenges, frustrations, ambiguities, anxieties, etc. that counterparts in the so-called “real world” do. Their “journey” of personal growth and professional development is an endless process rather than an ultimate destination. The same is true of those who read this book as well as those they supervise and others who supervise them. Ecclesiastes once suggested that “there is nothing new” whereas Heraclitus suggested that “everything changes, nothing changes.” They are both correct.

All organizations need effective leaders at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. Every day, there are “games” played at those levels and in those areas. Sometimes it’s checkers, other times it’s chess. All organizations need leaders who are masters at both games and constantly strengthen their skills at both.

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