Published on 10th November 2022
Chess is a game that requires a tremendous amount of mental skill, focus and mastery. The game was designed to model warfare and was used historically to teach emerging political and military leaders how to think strategically, analytically and how to out-maneuver opponents in a simulated battlefield. Chess masters are among the most respected competitors in the world.
Below are 5 steps on how to manage your career like a great chess master.
Step 1: Know Your Assets
In chess both players are provided with the same 16 pieces — 6 of which have unique characteristics. The chess master is very familiar with each piece’s unique properties and knows how to use each asset to create the power plays to influence the board.
As a professional, can you identify your unique “6 pieces” and how to play them effectively? Each professional has marketable skills, a personal style, industry knowledge, unique achievements, areas of expertise and his or her own story.
While every professional has these 6 unique attributes, the problem is most people don’t know what they are and how to articulate them. The problem is so common, that there is a term for it — being an unconscious competent. Professionals cannot dominate their “board” if they are unaware of their assets.
Step 2: See the Big Picture
It is a known fact that chess masters can see 15 moves in advance — some claim to see even more. They enter each game with a vision, strategy and plan. They have an opening game plan on how they want to set up their board. Then, they have a middle game plan on how they want to dominate the board, and finally, they have an endgame plan on how they will finish and win the game.
Do you have a career vision and a game plan? What are your opening goals for the next 90 days to set the stage for your advancement? Do you have short-term goals about where you want to be 1-2 years from now, followed by long-term goals about where you plan to be in the next 5 or 10 years?
Step 3: Have Situational Awareness
In chess circles there is a common expression “to see the entire board.” Most beginners have a limited focus on one chess piece at a time, or a small region of the board. Chess masters have a high degree of situational awareness. They are always monitoring the entire board, since after each exchange there is a shift in the power dynamics. By having situational awareness, chess masters can make the right analytical decision for each move and can adjust their strategy when necessary. In chess, the board is always in motion and conditions can change suddenly
As a professional, do you have situational awareness? Are you aware of the macro changes that are happening in the economy, the marketplace, or in technology that can have an impact on your industry or your company? How has the pandemic impacted changes in business structure, products or services or customer demands? Are you aware of any micro changes that are happening in your department, with your manager or team or with your clients? Change can be either a potential problem or a hidden opportunity depending on your level of alertness and your ability to take decisive action.
Step 4: Think Offensively and Defensively
Chess is a game of war; it is game to be won. However, chess masters are also playing against opponents of equal or greater skill. Not only are chess masters focused on advancing their position, they are under constant attack. Chess masters need to play offensively as well as defensively. They come into each game with a vision and a plan. However, part of their plan involves various fallback positions for just-in-case scenarios.
Do you have a set of fallback plans? Do you have plans B, C and D ready to go just in case of a professional setback? And do you know the right time to employ each fallback position?
Step 5: Deliberate Practice
Chess masters are very active learners who are totally invested in the concept of deliberate practice. They analyze the games of their chess heroes and emulate their moves. Emerging chess leaders seek out the best players for mentorships and coaching. They are constantly learning new attack strategies and traps. Chess masters are developing their board skills and polishing their endgame.
Unfortunately, most professionals spend a lot of their off time in distractions and entertainment, rather than involved in deliberate practice. Even if they are spending time learning, it tends to be more random than in a focused program with clear learning objectives.
In conclusion, most career professionals tend to be too complacent and reactionary. Their approach tends to resemble a casual game of checkers rather than a competitive chess game. Is it time that you step up your game?
First published on Damon Montal’s LinkedIn page, January 2022.