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 ~ Make Peace

Glynn Archer 2Blessed are the peacemakers – Jesus, Matthew 5:9

We don’t have to look far to see the need for peace in our world.  Conflicts are ongoing in several parts of the world at this very moment. As leaders, we feel the conflicts closer to home, among our team members.

I was reminded recently that sometimes our role as a leader means being a peacemaker. I visited the Key West Cemetery where one of the best leaders I’ve ever known is buried.  His name is Glynn Archer, Jr.  He came along at a time in my life when I was still trying to get my head around the responsibilities of leadership.  He was a mentor to me.  He was involved in the local community and was especially helpful in the bringing together of three distinct churches as they merged into one. I watched as he masterfully heard each side’s point of view and distilled each group’s concerns down to the common elements.  Then he built relational bridges between the groups so that they could meet in the middle and work together.  He realized that working together was the only way forward.

It’s tough to be a peacemaker because each side in the conflict thinks they are right. I’ve enjoyed reading Ed Catmull’s fantastic book, Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Mr. Catmull is the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.  He describes one of his early meetings with the late Steve Jobs as they are trying to figure out if they could work together.  Catmull gently asks Jobs how he handles it when people disagreed with him. Jobs replies, “When I don’t see eye to eye with somebody, I just take the time to explain it better, so they understand the way it should be” ( Amazon Kindle, Location 743).

We all share Jobs approach at times.  Everybody else is wrong and we are right…right?

That’s why we need peacemakers. Leaders have to wade in where angels fear to tread and get messy with the conflict.  We risk being yelled at and misunderstood.  We have our motives questioned and are accused of playing favorites.

But when the conflict is resolved, there is nothing like the sweet sound of harmony as team members work together again.  The mission moves forward.

Buck up your courage; be a peacemaking leader.

The world needs you.

And so does your team.

Monday Quick Tip: Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This seems like common sense, but sometimes leaders get a “big head” and forget that there is no such thing as a solo leader.

These types of bosses are “glory hogs” who act as if their team’s contributions don’t matter.

When it comes time for praise or evaluations, they take credit for the good things the team has accomplished. They are selfish and insecure. They practice “3D Leadership” that demotivates, demoralizes and demeans their team members.

Not surprisingly, their followers don’t stick around. Who wants to be on a team where our contributions are ignored or where credit is taken by the leader as if it was their own?

This week, pay attention to the people you lead.

How are they doing?

What contributions have they made that you are overlooking?

Thank them for being a part of your team. Reward them for their contributions.

Don’t be a glory hog. Instead, do what your mother taught you: give credit where credit is due.

Taking One for the Team

Sea World vendorThe sun beat down on us as we sat in Shamu Stadium waiting for the Believe show to start at Sea World San Diego.  With a few minutes to kill before show time, I watched the vendors hawking toys, over-sized Sea World novelty cups, ice cream and assorted foods.  Suddenly behind me over my left shoulder I heard a commotion and turned just in time to see a red vested vendor dump his entire tray of popcorn bags onto the aisle steps.  A couple bottles of Pepsi he was trying to balance under the popcorn tray toppled over as well.  I felt for him. Blistering heat, big crowds and only a few precious minutes to make a sale, but now any potential profit he makes is bouncing down the steps.

From my right I saw a flash of red making its way up the same aisle steps.  It was another vendor who was working the ground level of the stadium selling Sea World themed toys.  He saw what happened to his fellow red vest and made a beeline towards him.  He urgently excused his way through the crowd.  Still holding his own tray, he bent down to gather the mess of remaining popcorn bags.  When the last bag was back in place on the tray, the popcorn vendor bobs his head in thanks to his fellow vendor.  At first, this mishap seemed like a small thing, but as I thought about it more I realized how extraordinary it was.

We’re taught to look out for ourselves.

We’re taught to compete.  The vendor’s job is to sell stuff to the crowd.  A successful day means sales and profits.  It’s a tough job because the people you are attempting to convince to buy your product have already spent a lot of money to be in the park.  Those same people have a variety of choices when it comes to spending their limited funds.  Rarely will a person buy toys plus drinks plus popcorn plus sunshades plus ice cream before a show. Realistically, people will buy from one maybe two vendors simply because they can’t afford more.  The vendor who came to the rescue gave up his opportunity for sales so that he could help out a colleague in need.  That’s pretty rare, but that’s exactly the spirit and attitude we are trying to foster in the team members we lead.

Create a sense of cooperation.

We’re trying to move those we lead to embrace taking one from the team to taking one for the team. The leader’s job is to create a sense of cooperation among team members in order to fulfill the vision.  Sure, that day the toy vendor probably lost a sale or two, but what he gained was greater in the long run, the trust of his colleague.  Success for him that day was not found in the counting of profits, but in the knowledge that he was a team member who could be counted on to help out when needed.  The day may come when the circumstance is reversed and the toy vendor needs the popcorn vendor’s help.  When it does, it will be the popcorn vendor who can be counted on to help.  When cooperation exists, a team is one step closer to achieving their goals.

“The greatest compliment you can receive is being counted on.” – John Maxwell

As a leader, what are some things you do to foster cooperation among your team members? I’d love to hear your thoughts.