“Chess is life.”
My 11 year old son, Andrew, got a chess set for Christmas; we’ve left it out on the dining table and we’ve played a game or two a day since he opened it up. For the most part, he has played like a typical adolescent – moving tactically and not really thinking about the consequences of his moves. I’m a parent who often stops the play and offers a lesson or two; he, naturally, hates that. We’ve played about 15 or so games since Christmas and I have beat him each time.
Tonight, he beat me! And he did so in less than twenty moves.
My loss serves as motivation to write this post as I received three valuable lessons from my dear son.
First, don’t get too comfortable with what you think you know.
Second, regardless of your good intentions, when you stifle someone’s movement, you make him vulnerable.
You see, I typically keep my king and queen protected until about mid-game; this is when I start to play a bit more aggressively. As you may know in chess, unless you’re a knight, you can’t move if you’re surrounded by your own team.
Before I knew it, Andrew had moved his knight up the board and within a few moves, called check mate. My king stood crippled as his knight proudly waited around the corner.
As Andrew got up from the board, he offered me a third lesson: he smiled sweetly and said, “if you’re going to try to beat me from here on out, you may want to change the way you play.”
It was a fast game, and I was proud of him. He has learned quite a bit these last two weeks, not only about the game but about his opponents. I took the loss in stride, and crowned my son king for the evening. Now, as he enjoys a movie, I am considering his lessons and drawing some work inferences therein.
We cannot take our new employees, or our younger employees, or our less seasoned employees for granted.
They need to be nourished, and we are best served if we appreciate they can learn a variety of ways: by observing, by doing, by discussing or by making mistakes. The latter, perhaps, is the best way to teach them, and we should identify numerous ways to enable this type of development to occur. More importantly, we cannot assume that mistakes reflect ignorance. Instead, it is probable that mistakes reflect learning and that the employee becomes stronger if given the right support.
We should not stifle movement away from us.
So often we want to keep our best, most prized employees close. We believe them to be significant because of their loyalty, their skills, their talents, their knowledge, or a variety of other reasons. Because we have grown to depend on them so much, we don’t encourage them to step away. But in doing so, we cripple them. Not only are we stifling their intellectual development by limiting their scope of work and their exposure to new things and perspectives, we are also inviting resentment.
(Trust me, if my king could have talked during that chess game, he would have told his pawns, his bishop and even his beloved queen to give him some space. They didn’t, and he was captured.)
Finally, we need to mix things up a bit.
As leaders, we are being observed – not just by our employees but by our colleagues, our competitors, our customers and clients. If we become predictable, creatures of habit, or set in our ways, we are making ourselves and our teams vulnerable. The world is evolving, our client’s needs are evolving, and our teams are evolving. When we refuse to evolve as well, or if we don’t even recognize when we need to, we fail.
I’ve left the chess board as it is, with my king toppled over, surrounded by his own team but with my son’s knight standing proudly. Perhaps it can serve as a gentle reminder of the three lessons.
Until next time, son, until next time.