In chess, a checkmate occurs when a player’s king is under attack, and has no alternative plan or course of action available because every possible escape route is blocked. At the moment of checkmate, the game is already lost, so the only way to avoid being checkmated is to be proactive, to strategically think several moves before ever getting to this point. Chess grand masters, able to visualize permutations and combinations involving ten or more moves into the future, have perfected this skill. Fortunately, it’s far less complicated to avoid a checkmate in the world of work! In fact, there are only three elements needed to develop a leadership approach that is effective in avoiding a workplace checkmate.
- First, pay attention to “checks”. In chess, a “check” (called by a player when the opponent’s king is under threat of capture) serves as a warning that a checkmate is imminent and gives the opponent a chance to take evasive action. Checks are also present in the workplace, alarm signals to leaders that things are about to go awry. But it’s up to leaders to pay attention. Whether it’s an increase in errors, a rise in customer complaints, or grumbling around the staff water cooler, it’s up to leaders to heed the cautionary signs and take evasive action.
- Second, pay attention to the pieces on the board. In chess, there are six different piece types (king, queen, rook, bishop, knight and pawns) and each moves differently. Good chess players know how to maximize the value of each piece based on how each one is able to move and progress on the board. In much the same way, good leaders realize that they have to get to know their people – who they are, what their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations are – and put them in situations where they can showcase their talents and mend their flaws.
- Third, recognize that time is a factor. Many chess games, particularly those played by professional or club players, are under a time control, which means that players must make a move or someone must win before the clock runs out. Which also means that it’s necessary to take action, decisively and promptly, on the chess board AND in the workplace. You can’t avoid a checkmate by doing nothing, so as a leader, it’s critical to do something – assert yourself, take defensive action, proactively deal with a problem customer or employee – firmly and without delay, in order to progress forward. If time runs out while you evaluate and hesitate, then you’ll end up in checkmate anyway.
How else do you think we can avoid a “checkmate” in the workplace? What are you doing to proactively avoid such a situation? Would love to hear your perspectives below.