Checkers or Chess

A lot of people do not like to play chess. It’s too hard, it’s too complicated and it requires more strategy. For others, the game of chess is exciting and demands more thought, which some people like to give. There are thousands of variables in the game of chess and you have to see many moves ahead. With checkers its linear, almost by chance, and the moves are very limited. No real strategy is required in the game of checkers. How these two games relate to the political world is quite amazing.

I recently met a CEO of a major US-based company. While attending a retreat designed to help improve company culture, this CEO said “employees just want to have fun at corporate retreats.” He then went on to say “the most memorable times at corporate retreats are those where we just have fun.” He made these comments as we were talking about how to improve company culture by having a corporate retreat.

Two others in the training session disagreed and argued that building relationships based on understanding derived from discussion is more memorable. The room quickly turned into a debate. One side argued for deep discussion; the other side argued for fun.

Those arguing for more fun were outnumbered. They were also more political, perhaps because they were in leadership positions, mostly at the executive level.

Those arguing for more discussion were generally staff  level employees. As we have said many times at The Genuine Optimist, open free expression eventually leads to new vision, and vision eventually leads to a call to act. This means at some point someone needs to take responsibility for the new vision. Arguing for more fun avoids discussion which can lead to more responsibility. Political people do not want more responsibility, which explains why they will choose more fun over more communication.

I have known a lot of fun people over the years. Not all of them, but some of them use fun to avoid discussion. The minute anyone tries to make a chess move showing a new vision, these people get uncomfortable. I have never built a lasting relationship with these people. Everything is usually short-lived, like checkers. Political people will always push the game of checkers on life, fun and no depth. There is very little thinking involved, almost no strategy, and it’s easy to manage. Chess is a different game entirely. It’s hard to manage a move without taking a lot more thought.

So what is the difference? Chess is discussion, checkers is fun.

Chess is a long game of vision. Checkers is a short game of linear moves.

People are like these board games. Some see only one move at a time, others see many moves far in advance. The later requires vision and a lot more communication. Most importantly minds that play chess require access to more discussion to help focus that vision. Political people will always reject visionary minds, which means they reject more human interaction.

Great leadership lets discussion have plenty of opportunity to build deeper and more meaningful relationships. If not we are creating authoritarian cultures under the guise of being fun and falsely optimistic.

What kind of leader are you stuck with? Demand more discussion and start talking about the meaning of things and you will see quickly.

Keith Kelsch, The Genuine Optimist