Chess Not Checkers

Elevate Your Leadership Game

Mark Miller (Author)

Publication date: 04/06/2015

Bestseller over 35,000+ copies sold

Chess Not Checkers
As organizations grow in volume and complexity, the demands on leadership change. The same old moves won't cut it any more. In Chess Not Checkers, Mark Miller tells the story of Blake Brown, newly appointed CEO of a company troubled by poor performance and low morale. Nothing Blake learned from his previous roles seems to help him deal with the issues he now faces. The problem, his new mentor points out, is Blake is playing the wrong game.

The early days of an organization are like checkers: a quickly played game with mostly interchangeable pieces. Everybody, the leader included, does a little bit of everything; the pace is frenetic. But as the organization expands, you can't just keep jumping from activity to activity. You have to think strategically, plan ahead, and leverage every employee's specific talents—that's chess. Leaders who continue to play checkers when the name of the game is chess lose.

On his journey, Blake learns four essential strategies from the game of chess that transform his leadership and his organization. The result: unprecedented performance!

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Overview

As organizations grow in volume and complexity, the demands on leadership change. The same old moves won't cut it any more. In Chess Not Checkers, Mark Miller tells the story of Blake Brown, newly appointed CEO of a company troubled by poor performance and low morale. Nothing Blake learned from his previous roles seems to help him deal with the issues he now faces. The problem, his new mentor points out, is Blake is playing the wrong game.

The early days of an organization are like checkers: a quickly played game with mostly interchangeable pieces. Everybody, the leader included, does a little bit of everything; the pace is frenetic. But as the organization expands, you can't just keep jumping from activity to activity. You have to think strategically, plan ahead, and leverage every employee's specific talents—that's chess. Leaders who continue to play checkers when the name of the game is chess lose.

On his journey, Blake learns four essential strategies from the game of chess that transform his leadership and his organization. The result: unprecedented performance!

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Mark Miller
Mark Miller is currently serving as vice president, organizational effectiveness, at Chick-fil-A, Inc. He is also the author of The Heart of Leadership, The Secret of Teams, and, with Ken Blanchard, Great Leaders Grow. His blog, GreatLeadersServe.org, is rated as one of the top leadership sites in the world.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
1. The Decision
2. Harder Than It Looks
3. Something Has to Change
4. A Different Game
5. Game On!
6. Start Here
7. Place Your Bet
8. What's Important?
9. Who Cares?
10. It's Your Move
11. Game Plan
12. What's Next?
Epilogue

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Excerpt

Chess Not Checkers

Introduction

Leading has never been easy. From our first experiment trying to get our classmates to follow us or receiving our first official assignment at work, leadership has always demanded our best effort. That hasn’t changed—but something else has: the complexity of the problems we face and the organizations we lead has increased exponentially.

Perhaps this complexity finds its energy in the scope of your enterprise, or it may merely be a function of increased volume. These are great problems to have … if leaders can orchestrate an appropriate response.

Unfortunately, for many leaders, our past successes just don’t translate. The game has literally changed before our eyes. The methods that worked extremely well in the past no longer have the same effect. In many cases, the tried and true has become the tired and tarnished.

Most of us began our leadership journey utilizing an approach with striking similarities to the game of checkers, a fun, highly reactionary game often played at a frantic pace. Any strategies we employed in this style of leadership were limited, if not rudimentary. The opportunities in our world for leaders to play checkers and be successful are dwindling.

The game today for most leaders can better be compared to chess—a game in which strategy matters; a game in which individual pieces have unique abilities that drive unique contributions; a game in which heightened focus and a deeper level of thinking are required to win.

Although Chess Not Checkers provides a rich metaphor for leaders, it is much more than that. The game of chess contains four specific parallels that can inform and transform any organization seeking new levels of performance. I’ve positioned each of these ideas as a “move” your organization can make to draw closer to your goals. Collectively, these moves can be your blueprint for sustained high performance.

I hope this simple story will resonate with you. The company Blake leads is not real, although the situations he faces are as relevant as today’s news. I’ve intentionally omitted details about his organization, leaving it largely nameless and faceless. Hopefully, this approach will make it easier for you to think about your own organization. Is it possible you may be playing checkers when the game is chess? If that is your situation, today can be the day you start learning a new game.

It’s your move!

The Decision

If you miss the “opportunity of a lifetime,” do you ever get another one?

Blake wrote these words in his journal, put down his pen, and stared out the kitchen window. He had gotten up early; he couldn’t sleep, anyway. His mind was racing as he reflected on his life and career up until this point.

The last decade had been a whirlwind. After his father died, Blake had invested five years trying to live up to his dad’s expectations. Jeff had always believed his son could lead. Blake had never been sure, but he pushed through his doubts and dedicated himself to learning the skills of leadership.

Blake’s leadership journey had been frustrating. After learning to cast vision, build teams, get results, and more, he had been passed over for formal leadership positions. Confused by this turn of events, he reached out to his longtime mentor, Debbie Brewster. She helped him gain the greatest insight of his life thus far: If your heart is not right, no one cares about your skills.

This revelation led Blake to the next phase in his journey. Armed with the skills he had learned, he began working diligently to strengthen his leadership character. According to those closest to Blake, it was working. Blake was becoming a leader people wanted to follow.

Now, a decade into his career, he finally felt like he understood leadership. The men and women he worked with seemed to agree. There were rumors Blake might someday move into senior leadership. But still, Blake was skeptical about his future at Dynastar, and he had lingering doubts about his own leadership. If he had so much potential, why hadn’t he already been given a position of leadership? All these thoughts made Blake’s current decision even more difficult.

The options were clear: stay at Dynastar with the hope of a bright future, or take an offer to be the CEO of a small business in a nearby community.

“Small” was a relative term. The business had annual sales of several million dollars and employed more than fifty people. Blake’s income would be more than he was currently making, but that was not what excited him. Based on what he had learned, he believed the business had tremendous untapped potential. He was convinced that in a few years, he could double the sales—and profits. The upside opportunity was significant.

There were still two lingering issues. The flat sales had not escaped the notice of the parent company. They were eager for a turnaround. In his conversations with senior leaders, Blake had the distinct impression he would need to make things happen quickly or the business could be closed or sold. His challenge would be to get it back on a growth trajectory as quickly as possible.

The other issue was Megan. Happily married to Blake for just over ten years, she had been with him every step of the way. Blake knew she was unsure about him making this move.

Blake went to the counter to get another cup of coffee as Megan came into the kitchen. “Good morning,” he said.

“Morning,” Megan mumbled as she made her way to the coffee maker. Blake handed her a cup, and she cradled it with both hands and held her face six inches over the cup to breathe in the warmth. Now somewhat awake, she said, “Today’s the day you need to make a decision, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Have you decided?”

“I’m going to do it.”

“What tipped the scales?” Megan asked.

“I see this as a huge opportunity for us. It looks to me like the business has been over-managed and under-led.”

“You know you have my full support, and I hate to mention it, but I have one last question,” Megan said reluctantly.

“Okay.” Blake leaned forward.

“You have never led a company.” She looked at him lovingly, “Do you know how?”

“I think so,” Blake confessed.

“Your confidence overwhelms me,” she smiled.

It looks to me like the business has been over-managed and under-led.

“Well, you’re right—I have never led a company. However, I do know a lot about leadership. That’s what I’ve been doing the last decade—learning to lead.”

“Yes, I know, and I can see, even here at home, you are a much better leader than you were then. But leading a cross-functional team and leading a multimillion-dollar organization seem,” she paused, “well, different.”

“I’ve thought about that, and I agree—but I believe I can figure it out.”

“Okay,” Megan gave a forced smile.

“With your support, I know this can be a good change for us,” Blake said, sensing her hesitation.

“I’m all in.” She reached across the table and grabbed his hand.

“Me, too! I’ll make the call this morning.”

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Endorsements

“Don't let the highly absorbing story here fool you – Chess not Checkers is a truly fascinating and eminently practical guide to improving your organization's functionality and performance at all levels. Any leader looking to effect critical change will come away with a new understanding of what changes to make and how to make them!”
—Marshall Goldsmith, New York Times and global bestselling author of What Got You Here Won't Get You There

“As our opportunities and challenges grow ever more complex, leadership has never been more valuable. With his creative and accessible new book,
Chess Not Checkers, Chick-fil-A's Mark Miller has successfully demystified the essence of modern leadership. Recommended to current and future leaders alike.”
—Muhtar Kent, Chairman and CEO, The Coca-Cola Company

“Engaging as well as enlightening -- good storyline -- believable characters with real life challenges. I highly recommend this book to any organization looking for a higher level of performance. The four staples of high performance will stand the test of time”.
—Clint Hurdle, Manager, Pittsburg Pirates

“In
Chess Not Checkers, Mark Miller has written a compelling and insightful guide to building a high-performance organization. Through realistic examples and instantly recognizable personalities, Miller has distilled four powerful lessons to benefit leaders at all levels of their careers. The book is entertaining as a novel yet packs profound insights into what it means to lead and succeed in today's business world.”
—Chris Heller, President, Keller Williams Worldwide

“Mark Miller is an expert on leadership. His new book,
Chess Not Checkers, is headed to the best-seller's list. Check it out… it's that good!”
—Pat Williams Co-founder and Senior Vice President, Orlando Magic and author of 21 Great Leaders

“To excel as a high performance leader, one must first
think like a high performance leader. Mark Miller does a brilliant job of outlining the critical shift leaders must make if they want to move from playing small and simple to succeeding in large complex environments.”
—Linda Lindquist-Bishop, World Champion Sailor, and President, Courageous Thinking Inc.

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