Chess is a game that I can honestly say, that I’m ok at but would not do well against a seasoned player. I do love the concept of chess though. Utilizing the same starting resources with the winner being determined by strategic planning and ability to adapt to their opponent.
We can find leadership in chess in a few different ways that wrap around strategic thinking.
You need to understand everyone’s role
The first step in learning how to play chess is to understand the roles of all the pieces (how they move, what they should do, priority, etc) so that you can actually begin to play the game.
The same has to happen with your team in order to be effective in your job. Yes, it’s important to understand the literal job that they sit in and what that role encompasses on the team, but it’s just as important to get to know the person to understand what unique talents and abilities that they bring to the table.
Knowing just about the role on the team without the personal context is like knowing only half of what each piece does. Can you still win? Sure, with easier challenges and opponents. You are going to be quickly taken out of a game though if you go in this way against a seasoned player.
Learn your people’s passions, talents, and motivators to take their role on the team over the top. They can help you move your strategy in a way that you may not even realize right now.
The best always think ahead
Good chess players are playing their turn, but they are thinking about several moves ahead. Playing chess can help you be a great strategic planner.
I use the chessboard analogy quite a bit when teaching leaders about being strategic when they think about the future of their talent and the strategy of the team and organization.
The idea is that you start with a hypothetical that is rooted in the real world and then you begin to play out how you would react and what your next steps would be.
For talent, we typically start with the hypothetical sudden opening in a key role. Who is the next person? What happens if that option doesn’t work out? Who is the backfill for the new role? Who is the backfill’s backfill? You can quickly find out where your strengths and opportunities are with the current and future strength of your team when you run scenarios like this.
For your business or goals, it’s a similar concept. Start throwing what-ifs into your work routine that are grounded in reality and probability. They can be rooted in business goals or maybe more soft skills in nature. If the business plan doesn’t take off like planned then what? How do I lead my people if someone were to, unfortunately, pass from COVID?
Running these with yourself and your team on occasion is always a worthwhile time investment. We actually call this type of exercise chessboard when we do it with other leaders.
Things change and you have to adapt
Even the best-laid plans don’t always work out like they were planned to. Life happens! In chess, you may have to change your strategic plan and begin reacting and changing your plan based on an unexpected move from the other side that just occurred.
Help your team see the changes before they occur and equip them to communicate their thoughts to you and the team as they occur. Some of the best companies in the US to adapt early to COVID saw what was happening in Asia and Europe and got ahead by beginning to change plans before it hit them. You’ll need to have a high degree of trust and respect built up between you and your people in order to be great here. They need to understand that you will value and take to heart their guidance and you need to trust they are thinking through things with the right mindset and have the right level of perspective for the issue at hand.
On a smaller scale, think about how you react to the smaller changes that happen to you on a regular basis? Does it wreck your day or stop productivity, or do you make a quick plan, adapt, and move on?
Handle change, both big and small, well to keep your plan moving forward.
Just as in chess, you’ll be a better leader when you understand what challenges you’re up against (The other player) understand your team well (the pieces) that execute on your plan well while being flexible to adapt along the way.
“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” -Micheal Scott
The Office continues to be a hit show years after the conclusion of the series. It’s both absurd and totally relatable. You’ve probably seen a little (or a lot) of Micheal in your supervisor and the likely experienced workplace drama that mimics the show to at least some degree. For leaders, you may see those cringe moments that Micheal has and can see yourself in those situations. Maybe it’s not to the extreme that he often goes to, but relatable nonetheless.
As bad of a boss that Miachel was, we can learn a thing or two about leadership from him, to help us be more effective when working with others.
Michael has a heart for his people
One of the most likable aspects of Michael’s character is how much he loves his team (except for Toby in HR). His misguided antics are often rooted in trying to save his people’s jobs, to do something to motivate his team, or to celebrate personal and professional success.
What are you willing to do for your team? What would you sacrifice and what length would you go to take care of them? to take that challenge further ask the same question about each individual that you work with.
A trusting and empowering leader is willing to put some risk on the line as well as their personal reputation in order for someone else to have a chance to succeed. Check your comfortability in letting others have the spotlight and understand where your personal boundaries are and how far your ego extends. You likely have room to further push for growth in this area.
Michael celebrated the success of others
We’ve talked at length in the past about the importance of celebrating success (ep 143) and having fun with your team (ep 120, 192). Lee Cockerell, retired EVP of Disney World talked about the idea of sharing appreciation, respect, and encouragement on ep 200. He and I have shared examples of cheap and imaginative ways that you can have fun and celebrate others.
Micheal and the office staff certainly lean into this idea. The Dundies are cheap annual awards that he would give out every year like the Oscars. People in the real world like them so n=mcuh that they by replicas and hand them out to others. The team also had a fun day with their own office Office Olympics. The medals were made out of paperclips and yogurt tins. Several people cherished their cheaply made medals because it held sentimental value to them.
I love formal recognition programs. They certainly have their place in highlighting someone’s effort and impact. I think there is a large opportunity to recognize others in a more informal, silly yet sincere way as well. Whether it’s the Dundees, Lee’s green hot sauce, or my All That and a Bag of Chips Award, do something different to recognize others.
Michael was available to his people and there when they needed him
There are many examples of Micheal being there for his people and having a personal investment in both their personal and professional endeavors. Pam had a high personal passion for art and got into a local art show. When she invited the office to the event, no one showed outside of her boyfriend who was very critical of the work. Michael shows up at the last moment and is truly impressed by her work. He buys her small painting of their office building and puts it on display outside of his personal office for the remainder of the show.
How do you think Pam felt about her leader after that showing of compassion, care, and authenticity?
Don’t’ let the hustle and bustle of the day or the fact that you aren’t physically with someone on a daily basis hold you back from being authentic and available to others. Check-in with your people on a consistent basis so that there is a consistent flow of communication to fill in the questions and gaps that people may have surrounding their work and expectations. Be sure to connect on a personal level as well. Instead of asking “How are you?” start the conversation off with a follow-up to something personal that was previously shared.
You will gain a lot of ground in garnering trust, respect, and admiration from your people when you show your investment in them on a personal level.
Michael Scott is certainly an over-the-top leader on The Office. Peel away the craziness and you’ll see a person that cares for others, know the power of celebrating wins and
I know why we’re here. A rescue op, save the dinosaurs from an island that’s about to explode. What could go wrong? -Owen (Chris Pratt)
Jurassic World is one of the highest grossest movies ever made and for good reason. It’s got a relatable hero, action, drama, and of course dinosaurs. Through two movies (and an upcoming third), we see Owen and the gang navigate all sorts of dangers while strengthening their relationships with each other. There are a few leadership lessons that we can learn from a dinosaur trainer.
Calm under pressure
Owen is certainly a leader that remains calm under pressure. You see this at the beginning of the first movie as he is training the velociraptors and then continue to see it play out over the next two movies. In several scenes, Owen stays calm under chaos and lives as a result, while those around him that can’t handle the pressure and don’t make it out alive.
Being level-headed in tough situations will serve you well. Understand where your strengths and weaknesses are in regard to your reaction in challenging situations. For me, it’s easy to remain calm in crisis situations while I have to be more mindful while dealing with people who are generally angry and lash out at others.
Remember that being a calm person doesn’t mean you have to be a bump on a log with no personality. Owen is witty, sarcastic, and funny. Be yourself and keep calm when the pressure mounts.
People who fail to learn from the past often repeat it
The underlying principle in Jurassic World is people repeat their failures when they don’t learn from them. Strip away some of the fluff and Jurrasic World is exactly like the original Jurassic Park. Nice park, everything looks great, an evil person tries to steal Dinosaur IP, Dinos get loose, run for your life.
Failure is needed for you to grow as a person and for your company to grow. It shows that you are trying new things and continuing to push forward in your journey of growth. We sometimes have a tendency to be ashamed of those failures and quickly try to sweep them under the rug and move on.
Take time to reflect on the whys and reasons behind the failure. It will teach you valuable lessons and help you move forward in a healthy way.
Don’t celebrate too early
A classic scene in all of the Jurassic movies is the early celebration. It’s like the helicopter pilot in Jurrasic World who thinks he made it out only to be eaten by a giant dinosaur in the end. Make sure that you celebrate your wins with your team and yourself, just not too early. It’s cost athletes their win, companies their lead, and embarrassment for others.
Make sure it’s a done deal and then party.
Leaders have to put themselves between danger and their team
Videos that show people putting themselves in harm’s way to save or help someone else regularly go viral on the internet. Almost always, it’s a regular person and complete stranger to the one that needs assistance. We love a good hero that sacrifices their safety for those of others.
Owen puts himself between his friends and danger constantly in the new Jurassic World movies. His concern is obviously higher for those he cares about above himself. What monsters out there have you have thrown yourself in front of to protect your friends, family, and co-workers? Maybe it’s not a killer dinosaur, but perhaps it was a bully, a safety issue, or a tough conversation in a meeting. I often see my role as a leader as a shield to keep as much of the garbage from hitting my team as possible. A good leader does what needs to be done to protect their team.
Live your life like a good dinosaur trainer. Be brave, level-headed, and learn from your mistakes. Step up to help others and celebrate after you’ve accomplished your goal.
There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, to see if we could become something more. -Nick Fury
The Avengers have fully taken over the world. Their universe in TV and film has spanned over 10 years and amassed billions in ticket sales alone. It seems we can’t have enough of our beloved heroes. Underneath all the space travel, intergalactic wars, and Avenger-level threats lie several leadership lessons we can take away and apply in the real world.
Ordinary people, extraordinary powers
If you look at the Avengers, most of them are ordinary people who came across extraordinary power along their journey. It’s the reason why we relate to these characters so well.
Spider-man: High school kid bit by a spider.
Captain America: Underweight Army soldier injected with super serum.
Hulk: Scientist covered in gamma radiation.
Star-Lord: Regular guy who grew up in space.
Ant-Man: Nerdy ex-con who uses a shrinking suit.
Captain Marvel, Black Widow, War Machine, Winter Soldier: Military personnel.
Black Panther: Leader of his country Wakanda.
Sure the suits and accessories are cool, but it’s their character that gives them true power. They are inspiring, brave, and bold all the while carrying the human flaws that we have. Let your character be your superpower. Be bold as you help others achieve success. Be brave in those though moments of decision making and leadership moments. Be humble as you lead others.
Continual learners and leaders of development
Every character that has been around the Marvel Universe for a while now has shown some type of character and personal development. Perhaps the greatest of those is Tony Stark.
Tony is the first character from the universe that we meet. He’s incredibly cocky, naive to the collateral damage he creates, and can’t hold down a meaningful relationship. Over 10 years, you see Tony become a true hero both inside and outside of the suit. He’s grown to be a caring man, understands the values of relationships, and is certainly sacrificial. Ironman didn’t stop growing as a person once he had the suit, although he could have.
He is a great reminder for us to continue on in our own journey. Maybe you are building the next great thing. Perhaps you just got that job you always wanted. Don’t stop there. Keep growing and investing in yourself.
Even the greatest heroes fail
Marvel movies are filled with our favorite heroes failing. From Captain America failing to bring Bucky back to the good side to the whole team’s failure to save the universe in Infinity War. If you think about Thor, he fails about as much as he succeeds.
Some stay down longer after a defeat than others, but they all bounce back and face their failures head-on. They learn lessons from their experience and use that to help them come back stronger than ever.
It’s ok to fail. As a leader, you need some level of failure in your life. It keeps you grounded and shows that you are trying new things. Don’t let those lessons destroy you. Learn what you can, sit on the sidelines for a minute to regain yourself, and jump back into the action.
You cant hold onto it forever
Several of the original Avengers have come, and are continuing to, realize that you can’t hold on to your spot forever, no matter how much you enjoy doing it. They built in their own succession plans in friends, family, and colleagues. Yes, the Avengers know the value of passing the baton.
Plan your time in leadership and life like it is short. In all likelihood, it’s already shorter than you think it is. Grow the next generation to take on the legacy that you have built.
Learn these lessons and assemble a great leadership reputation.
(Leia) would say, hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night. – Vice Admiral Holdo
The newest trilogy of Star Wars movies closes out the Skywalker Saga; a story told over nine movies and three generations. The final three movies introduce the group of heroes that are responsible for carrying on the mission set by those that came before them.
In a way, it reminds me of the newer two generations entering the workforce. Both are forced to deal with the success and failures of the generations before them as well. There are a few good takeaways that we can learn from these movies.
The latest trilogy dives into characters more than either trilogy before it with the story really focusing on Rey and Ben’s story of self-discovery. Who am I? What’s my purpose in this place? While Ben chases after identity without even realizing it, Rey is desperate to find out who she is and who her parents are.
We all want to have a purpose in this life. We want life to mean something. Take time for yourself to Find your Calling (PTB Ep. 161). People sometimes miss this step in pursuit of a great job, career or relationship. Your identity as a person is not what you do or who you are with. Search your identity out. Take a vacation or time for yourself without distraction. Reconnect with your passion projects, causes, and hobbies.
Understand your why and let it be the force that guides you in your journey.
Do it your way
There is a very vocal minority out there that don’t like the newest movie. “That’s not how Luke is,” or “She’s shouldn’t have powers so fast.” These people are constantly putting the newest generation up in comparison to their own. Thinking that Luke’s generation is the gold standard, they find it almost impossible for anyone after them to live up to the task.
Do things your way. Rey’s training was not like Luke’s, but Luke’s was not like anyone else’s before him either. If you are part of the newer generations entering leadership, learn from those before you but be bold enough to do it your own way. You get to write your own story. For those that have been around a while, be a good mentor and teacher to those coming after you. Give them the freedom to try new things and don’t quelch their creativity and uniqueness.
Rey and her friends were victorious because they relied on each other and forged their own paths.
Breaking Generational Sin
The Skywalker Saga originally started out as the story of Luke and then shifted to his father. It then shifted to Darth Vader’s grandson in the third trilogy. Each generation of Skywalker dealt with the pull of the Dark Side with some being more successful than others.
Emperor Palpatine is present throughout all three trilogies and can be seen as the embodiment of evil, tempting each generation of Skywalker to fall to the Dark Side. Darth Vader lost. Luke thought that he won. It wasn’t until the third generation that Palpatine (evil) was truly defeated.
People struggle with generational sin. It can be difficult to step out of the shadows, traps, and habits of our parents. It is possible to defeat. Show determination. Get help. Stay accountable. You are not doomed to repeat the failures of those before you. Some past shows that can help you on this journey include:
The Star Wars Saga is my favorite set of movies. I would lose a whole day during summer break watching all three of the original movies back to back and often played Star Wars in the backyard and the forests surrounding our house. You don’t have to be a huge Star Wars fan to understand and appreciate the leadership lessons that it provides.
A story of true personal development
Luke starts out as a naive and enthusiastic kid in the first movie. By the second movie, he has matured some but now carries a sense of overconfidence which costs him dearly in the end. As we meet Luke in the last movie, he is totally different from the first film. He’s now grounded, confident, but not cocky, and begins to show his wisdom. It’s a great reminder that we should always be looking to grow ourselves.
How have you changed in the last year? What are you working on to master or upgrade your skills and talent? What are you a Jedi in and what are you Apprentice at?
A story of friends and teamwork
The victories had by the rebels would have not have been possible had they not looked out for and taken care of each other. The power of teamwork certainly shows in these movies. Without it, all of the rebels would have been killed in each movie. The Death Star wins. The movie ends after Hoth. The Death Star wins again. It’s a very motivational story of odds that can be overcome with a small dedicated team focusing on a common goal.
Your success and business lives and dies by the strength of your team. Take time to take care of them. Look out for them when they journey off on their own and fall into trouble. Don’t write people off. Give them the support and direction they need to be successful. Be willing to sacrifice important things for the betterment of the team.
Be willing to ask for help
We sometimes let our lack of awareness of our skillset, overconfidence, and/or ego get in the way of asking for help. The old jokes about men’s willingness to continue making mistakes before asking for directions or reading the instructions are funny because they are often true. The main characters thankfully do not have this same character hangup and it often saved them as a result.
Leia- Sent the droids to Obi-Wan to ask for help in the rebellion. She’s a princess and a general but knows when she needs assistance.
Luke- Asked Obi-Wan to train him. He reached out to Leia to help him after losing his battle with Darth Vader. He went to Yoda twice looking for help in growing his skills as a Jedi.
Han- Even the headstrong and cocky space smuggler asked for help. He asked for help when blinded from being frozen and reached out to the cute Ewoks to help take down the mighty Empire.
Let go of the things that keep you from reaching out for help from others. I’ve seen it set back and destroy careers because a person never asked for help and then continued to dig themselves further into trouble. No one thinks less of you if you need a hand. We all do from time to time.
Do or do not. There is no try.
Sometimes people want to know every little detail before they make a decision and then beat themselves up with second-guessing after they do. Learn as much as you can to minimize risk in a reasonable amount of time. Then make the choice to do something. Something is always going to be going on at work and in life and there is no perfect time to put your plan into place.
Destroying both Death Stars, the group getting saved at Cloud City, and escaping from Hoth all came from last-minute decisions that were put into action. The group would not have survived any of those encounters otherwise.
Be brave and bold in your decision-making. Rally your team and work towards the agreed-upon destination.
Take care of your friends and teammates. Invest in yourself, let go of ego and become decisive. Once you harness that power, never let someone tell you the odds.