Leadership: A Game Of Chess Or Checkers?

By: Eric Betts

When discussing the subject matter of leadership, an administrator may manage the affairs of the organization without having to be the leader. Moreover, the position of the leader need not be coveted. The leader may not have the skills necessary to be a manager. It is not the case that all leaders have the skills to manage. One who holds the top leadership position must focus on the broader group, whereas management gets to focus on helping individuals.

Additionally, while analyzing the quality of managing, we must understand what good-to-great managing means in the real world. There is good management and mediocre management. It is assumed that most desire to be good-to-great managers not only for the success of the organization but also for their own.

Here are a few qualities good-to-great managers may possess, without necessarily taking on a role as “the” leader. Marcus Buckingham, a universally recognized researcher on the topic of leadership strategies and strength discovery and author of The One Thing You Need To Know, gives the following standards for successful managers:

  1. Good managers focus on the individual employee and his or her role in helping the success of the organization. They study the talents, skills, knowledge, and experience. Furthermore, they are aware of the personal goals of the individual and seeks to match them with the overall mission of the company. When seeking clarity, the dos and don’ts must also be consistent.
  2. Good managers are never confusing to the employee or volunteer. Everyone knows their lane, what they bring to the organization, the order of priorities, the boundary lines and exactly what is expected of them. The manager also clearly communicates what the organization is about, and the markers for success on the way to the ultimate goals.

Gallup, a major polling institution in the U. S., has found that many employees and volunteers are not clear on what is expected of them. Clarity helps productivity.

  1. Good managers are not afraid to form personal connections. They care about the people with whom they work and not just the bottom line. A good manager has a desire for all to succeed and not just him or herself. Additionally, they learn about their personal lives and utilize this knowledge for the benefit of the employee and the organization.

Many fear the idea of personally connecting with employees or volunteers, thinking that this will create an atmosphere that is too relaxed. Others assume that forming personal connections will make it difficult to correct the employee or enforce certain rules. The reality is the exact opposite according to Buckingham’s findings. People are generally more productive when working for organizations that care about them and when around people they like.

Buckingham states the following important discovery concerning management and personal connections: “Research confirms more than the causal link between caring and productivity. Employees who feel cared about are less likely to miss workdays, less likely to have accidents on the job, less likely to file worker’s compensation, less likely to steal, less likely to quit and more likely to advocate the company to friends and family.” No matter how you choose to measure performance, being cared about seems to drive it.

  1. Good managers understand the power of praise and how it contributes to success. Praise and thanks are two different things. The question may be asked, “Why does a person need to be thanked for doing what they agreed to as an employee?” However, praise is not thanks. Praise, in this context, is making positive commentary on how a person’s unique skill sets or strengths have contributed to the advancement of the group and encouraging them to keep their eyes on the ball. Praise does not result in complacency, as many assume, but contributes to clarity and production. It is not thanking them for working hard, it is recognizing that their gifts make it a little bit easier on the group and the management. They not only notice large impacts for success among employees, but also small levels of growth. They take the time to celebrate them also.
  2. Good managers don’t go easy on people because they have established personal connections and are quick to offer praise. In fact, praise and personal connection makes it easier to know how and when to challenge and critique an employee so that they work better and smarter. The employee in this context understands that such criticism comes from a good place. It is clear to the employee that the manager is not simply looking out for themselves, but genuinely desires the success of the individual. Going easy does not help personal growth, and this is the motivation for challenging the person.
  3. Buckingham says that good managers play chess rather than checkers. In checkers, all the pieces move the same way, whereas in chess, the pieces move differently and more strategically. You must know how each piece moves and incorporate these unique moves into your overall plan of attack. Leaders who play checkers assume or hope that people will be motivated by the same things, driven by the same goals, desire the same kind of relationships, and learn the same way. Those who play chess discover what is unique about each person and capitalize on it.
  4. Finally, great managers are never suspicious of people’s strengths or abilities. They are not afraid or intimidated that people will become overconfident because they are good at what they do. They do not seek to “put people in their place.” Mediocre managers make the wrong assumption that gifted people will get ahead of the program or behave arrogantly. Such managers will tend to be overly critical toward those with the greatest strengths in order to offset arrogant actions or positions that they imagine might occur. The great manager does not fear strengths or talents in employees, but according to Buckingham, they fear that they will fail to help each person turn their innate talents into performance.

Management is an opportunity to establish connections that will last a lifetime. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to help bring out the best in others and to be inspired by the personal stories of professional growth among those they serve. It only involves learning to be more of a chess player than a checkers player.

By: Eric Betts

Assistant Director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at Athens State University