A Little Book with Big Ideas

Chess Not CheckersA review of Mark Miller’s book, Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game

I have been a fan of Mark Miller’s ever since I heard him speak at a workshop many years ago in Florida. When I first heard him, I wished that his insightful content was available in book form. I heard him speak again several years later and was delighted to hear him say he was working on a book. That was five books ago. Each of his books has hit home with me and helped me grow as a leader. His latest offering, Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game is no exception.

This book continues the fable style that is popular among business authors today. We ride along on Blake’s (a character from previous books) leadership journey as he accelerates his pace as a leader by taking over as the CEO of a small company. Blake soon finds that leadership at this level is more complex than it was in previous roles. The rest of the book describes four moves leaders need to make in order to up their leadership game. I won’t regurgitate the content here. There are other reviews that do that and I encourage you to pick up a copy of the book for yourself. It’s an easy read but has powerful principles that have big impact on how we lead.

Here is how the book impacted my leadership development:

  1. I will plan my departure from the organization my first day at the organization.

As a leader, one of my main jobs is to identify and invest in other leaders. The question that I ask myself is, “What do I want the leadership bench to look like when I leave?” If I have a hard time identifying leaders from day one, I have my work cut out for me. If I can identify a few key people with leadership potential, I can then devise ways of helping them tap into and refine their leadership skills. One principle in the book is, “Bet on Leadership.” For me, that means I need to invest in leadership by talking about leadership and offering resources to help people grow as leaders so that the day I leave the organization, another leader can easily step up and take the group where it needs to go.

  1. I will focus on WE not ME.

We are weary of hearing about selfish CEOs who command multi-million dollar contracts and ride around in corporate jets. It’s easy to get caught up in the perks and power of leadership and forget about the teams we are leading. Leadership is not about us. It’s about the people we lead. Our role is to serve the people under our care. Too often we have seen walls that are built between the leader and the team. In the book, the principle that counteracts this tendency is, “Act as One.” The people we lead need to see and believe that we are on the same side as them. As with most other things, it comes down to what we do rather than what we say. We’re all pulling on the same side of the rope.

  1. I will be humble enough to find a mentor who can help me at this stage of my growth.

The great thing about leadership is that we are never fully formed. There is always room to grow. In the book, Blake gets a new mentor who helps him in his current situation. I’ve found it a matter of Providence that the right mentors come into my life at the right time. There are mentors whom I no longer need because I have learned and gleaned all I possibly could from them at that stage. As my leadership growth needs change, so does my need for specific mentors. We can never believe that we have arrived as leaders, but instead are asking, “Who can I learn from at this stage of my growth?”

Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game challenged me and I will be using it as a resource for many years to come both for myself and for those I lead. I am going to be sharing this book with every person on my leadership team.

promo_01Thank you, Mark for stirring up the potential in those of us whose task it is to continually elevate our leadership game!

 

You can check out a trailer for the book here:

 

Monday Quick Tip ~ No Mo FOMO

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lau Tzu, Chinese Philospher

FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out has become a popular phrase that expresses our desire to be engaged with life and what is happening around us or on social media. It sometimes causes people to do stupid stuff. It can sometimes make people feel worse about their lot in life.

As one who tends towards perfectionism, I try to tackle FOMO with a “perfect” plan. The problem is that reality kills perfect plans every time. Perfect plans are an illusion.

As a leader, I want the right people in the right places at the right time, so that my organization hums along with speed and efficiency. But, once again, reality trumps plans. We discover that people are human. They make mistakes. We misjudge their capabilities, setting them up for failure and things come to a screeching halt. All of this failure gives us pause before we start again. We can become so paralyzed that we never get around to starting again.

Funny thing, the longer we wait to start, the further behind we get. Not taking action becomes inefficient. Not taking action means we are missing out.

Today is the day to start. Today is the day to tackle FOMO with a single step. Once we give up our perfect plans, we are free to figure it out as we go. I’ve discovered that the more I think I have it figured out, the more closed I am to suggestions and better ways of doing things.

We all have things we say we are going to start “someday.” What if someday were today?

What project, activity or relationship do you want to take one step towards in order to get momentum started?

It won’t be perfect, but neither will we be missing out on making our unique contribution to the world.

We need you to take that one small step…today.

Monday Quick Tip ~ Set the Pace

Richard Petty Rookie Exp

He who hesitates is lost. 

Adapted from Joseph Addison’s play Cato (1712):”The woman that deliberates is lost.” 

One of the most exhilarating experiences of my life was driving a race car around the Atlanta Motor Speedway in excess of 150 mph.  I was fortunate to take part in a morning session of the Richard Petty Driving Experience.  After a short instruction period, we were led to the track to take our place behind the wheel of a 600 horsepower speed machine.

In session one, I ran 8 laps before being brought in for some coaching by an instructor.  He told me, “You are getting too close to the pace car. Make sure you follow his lead and don’t get so close.”  I kept my distance and did better the second session.  My lap speeds by 10 miles per hour.

It’s been said many times, “Speed of the leader; speed of the team.” We, as leaders, set the pace for our team members.  This is where leadership becomes an art.

If we move too fast for our team, we run the risk of losing touch with those who are following.  Team members become tired from trying to keep up.  Eventually they become discouraged and quit.

If we move too slowly, top team members become bored.  Other members get distracted and have a hard time staying on track.  Petty squabbles and divisions soon cloud pursuit of the mission.

When we find the right balance of pace, the organization’s mission is accomplished in a way that energizes those who follow us.

Balance is the result of knowing ourselves as leaders.  Do we demand perfection or have expectations of our team members that are too high? Do we know the strengths and limitations of our team members?

As leaders, we set the proper pace so that our team members feel great about being a part of our team and accomplishing the organization’s mission.

What tips do you have for setting the right pace? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday Quick Tip ~ Don’t Be Fooled by Sunshine and Roses

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of James Barker/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Things are not always what they seem… – Phadeus, Roman poet

I attended a gathering of leaders recently in which we were going around the room telling how things were going within our teams.  Each of us, except one, stated some good things that were happening as well as some things with which we were struggling.  When it came to one leader in particular, this leader shared that everything was going great!  Wonderful! Good things were constantly happening!  All said with a smile that betrayed believability.  I knew first-hand that things were not in fact all sunshine and roses.  Things were quite the opposite.

As I reflected later on that meeting, I realized that the combined experience of the leaders in the room was over 80 years.  Yet, here was a leader who chose shut off any wisdom from   other leaders in the room who had wrestled with the very same issues and had grown through them.

Why do we unintentionally spurn the wisdom in the room?  Is it to make ourselves look better because we feel inadequate?  Do we want to appear as leaders who have it all together?

None of us have it together.

None of us want to see other leaders fail.  As leaders, it is in our nature to see others succeed, even those in “competition” with us.  We don’t want other leaders to make the same mistakes we did.

When things on our team are not sunshine and roses, the sharp leader is not afraid to admit it and glean from the wisdom in the room.  Instead, they embrace it.

What wisdom can we gather this week that will help us grow in our leadership?

Monday Quick Tip ~ Don’t Take the Blame

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“A poor workman always blames his tools.”

As leaders we are in the business of making others successful.  I had a boss at General Electric who used to say, “Your success is my success.” His words were backed up by a commitment to meet with me regularly, coach me, guide me and make sure I had what I needed to get the job done. He understood that as leaders we are there to serve those we lead.

We provide the tools and resources for our team members to get their jobs done well.

What do our team members need to succeed? Here is a very partial list:

  •        Tools – Computer, phone, supplies, etc.
  •        A listening ear
  •        An open door
  •        Our presence – Encouragement by walking around
  •        Checking in with them
  •        Following up with them
  •        Offer to help – “How can I help you today?” works wonders
  •        Time off maintain balance between work and family

The art of leadership is figuring out what individual team members need in order to succeed. Each person is different.  For some, all it takes is a listening ear. Others need to see us involved and working alongside them.

The above proverb reminds us that poor workers naturally look for others to blame.  Sometimes, that blame is directed at us because we “didn’t train them well enough” (or whatever excuse they want to use).

However, leaders with integrity do what it takes to set their team members up for success.

If a team member doesn’t measure up, it won’t be because the leader didn’t try their best to set them up for success.

In that case the blame will lie squarely with the team member.  We give them what they need to succeed and the rest is up to them.

What are some things you offer your team members to set them up for success?

Monday Quick Tip ~ Focus on Mastery

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“They are a Jack of all trades, but master of none.”

This phrase has been used in a derogatory way to describe a person who is scattered and undisciplined.  We all know people who are so sidetracked they can’t get anything done.  Focus eludes them.  They are driven by distraction.

We know others who are overworked and trying to get so much done that they end up getting nothing done of substance because they are skimming the surface.  Mediocrity is their make-up.

We also have people that we lead who are fantastic at what they do.  They have gained experience, studied from others, listened to their mentors, and worked hard to refine their skills. They have reached a level of mastery and are continually growing.  We can easily spot these people because even when they perform at a high level, they are always trying to figure out how to be better.  They are focused on mastery.  It’s a never ending passion.

One thing I’ve noticed about people who are successful is that they have found their niche.  They are doing what no one else is doing.  There is little competition in their field and they have become so good, that any competition that arises has little chance of succeeding.

As leaders we have to figure out who masters are and what skills they have so that we can put them in the right place on the team.  Once they are there, we give them space, freedom and the tools they need to succeed.

Who are the people on your team who have reached a level of mastery?  How can you inspire them this week?

Monday Quick Tip ~ Admit When You Don’t Know it All

Image courtesy of Nujalee/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Nujalee/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools learn in no other. – Benjamin Franklin

In almost every leadership position we hold there is a honeymoon period that allows us to get settled in and learn the lay of the land.  Very soon reality sets in and we realize there are challenges that are rising to the surface.  Our temptation is to turn on our mental autopilot and try to solve it the way we’ve solved it in the past. But then it doesn’t work.

I’ve discovered that no matter how many years of experience I get under my leadership belt, I run into issues I’ve never faced before.  Every leadership context is different.   An experienced pilot when facing turbulence can’t allow autopilot to take over. Instead, the pilot flies through it.

In the same way,  we can’t afford to go on autopilot thinking that “we’ve seen this before know what to do.”  When I find that attitude creeping in, I know it’s time to check myself.  Maybe I’m not seeing the whole picture or don’t know all the facts.

The best leaders admit when they don’t know it all.  They grow with the trials, deepen their experience and sharpen their skill.

Leadership expert Jim Collins, in his famous work on how good companies became great companies, says Darwin Smith of Kimberly-Clark is one of the greatest CEOs of the twentieth century.  Collins says, “Smith, a man who never entirely erased his own self-doubts, later summed up his tenure by saying simply, ‘I never stopped trying to become qualified for the job.’” (http://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/the-misguided-mixup.html)

Our experience informs the present to help us figure out what to do.  It begins with the attitude of humility.  Celebrity leaders rise only as high as the moment they think they know it all then they fall.

Leaders who last rise to the challenge and grow through the new experience.

Rick Pitino, championship basketball coach, writes, “The longer I live and the more I experience, the more I believe that humility is the quality essential to sustained success, and a lack of it is the major stumbling block for those who find success for a time, then lose it.” (The One-Day Contract: How to Add Value to Every Minute of Your Life­)

Could it be time to turn off autopilot and fly the plane?

What challenges are you facing that require a humble attitude and the willingness to learn something new?