Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are CEOs Playing Chess?

A CEO would be lucky if the game were that simple. After reading the Seven Surprises for New CEOs, it made me think of a conversation I had many years ago with a friend of mine. We were talking about chess and how "interesting" the game might be if we only led the chess pieces rather than have complete control over every move.

For example, an electronic version of the game may require a player to enter the move P-K4, but the pawn may only advance to K3. Just imagine playing chess, where at any given time a piece of any rank can go where it chooses. Not unlike the workplace, the CEO may direct an employee to advance to a specific position at a certain time, but (s)he doesn't quite get there for any host of reasons. It's a fitting metaphor.

Knowing what moves to make may help you win at chess, but it's a small part of the equation when it comes to leading an organization. To set a tone, establish priorities for decision making, and inspire employees to work as a team to achieve a common goal requires a great deal of skill. Because CEOs don't have total control, they must demonstrate exceptional leadership ability to achieve victory.

By comparison, it makes chess look more like checkers.


  1. leo - this is a fantastic idea! i'm only half joking when i say you should shop it around to a bunch of VCs adn get it brought to fruition.

  2. It would be fun. If you find the VC, we'll all be partners! Thanks and good to hear from you.

  3. Another note on why chess is easier: transparency. You can see the entire board at all times. Other differences?

  4. Leo - this is a compelling idea. In chess, albeit there are many pieces, they all move in a predictable way. The strategy is to be enough moves ahead of your opponent so they are not able to execute their strategy.
    In business, the strategy itself can be moving the pieces in a way that does not conform to the rules.

  5. Great point Howard. In the end; however, there's the strategy and the successful execution of that strategy. To your point though, you could argue that the pieces (people) can perform in a way that's more extraordinary than what's expected. By leading (in business) rather than controlling (as in chess), we may unlock unimaginable potential in the team. So while leadership is harder, it's potential is likely far greater - I can see a new post on this now ;-)



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