Strengths Coaching for Success

Play Chess not Checkers or How to be a Great Manager

Marcus Buckingham, co-creator of the Clifton StrengthsFinder along with Donald O Clifton, says that good managers play chess while bad managers play checkers.

What does he mean by that?

Well, what’s the biggest difference between checkers and chess?

It’s the pieces. In checkers, all the game pieces look the same and move in the same way. In chess, each piece is different. The pieces look different, and they move differently. Because the pieces can move differently, their abilities and what they can do in the game differs.

Bobby Fisher, the great chess champion, once said, “Winning in this game is all a matter of understanding how to capitalize on the strengths of each piece and timing their moves just right.”

People are like chess pieces; not checkers.

Good Managers Play ChessBad Managers Play Checkers

As Marcus Buckingham says “Your employees will differ in how they think, how they build relationships, how they learn, how prepared they need to feel, what drives them and so on. (Most of these differences don’t change). The best way to connect with people is to identify how each one is different and how you can best incorporate those differences into your plan of action.”

Great managers understand that. They know that each employee must be put in a position which enables them to use their unique personality and talents and play to their strengths. (They also understand that there is much more to be gained from building on talents and strengths than from trying to fix weaknesses and change people.)

So the first step for the great manager is to recognise differences, discover what is unique about each individual, find out what they’re good at, spot what their talents are, figure out their potential. Thinking of our chess pieces – to learn how each piece moves.

Then the challenge is finding a way to develop and build on those differences, working out how to capitalize on each individual’s strengths. How best to position individuals so that they can use their areas of strength every day, bringing those strengths to their role and to their team.

So great managers, having identified the way each individual moves, incorporate them into the overall plan of action, building their strategy around the individuals on their game board, and playing chess with their people.

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