Management Success Series Tip #10: Manage Like Bobby Fischer

In 1972, American Bobby Fischer won the World Chess Championship by beating Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union. It was a match publicized worldwide as the battle between two superpowers. While both nations had massive nuclear arsenals, this particular battle was fought with figurines on a game board.

Now, while I know who Bobby Fischer was, I admit that I barely know how to play chess. But what little I do know about the game can teach us a lot about managing people and businesses.  Here is what we can learn from Bobby Fischer.

1. Have A Strategy

In chess, we must have a strategy to outdo our opponent in an effort to win the game. Of course, our opponent will have his or her own plan and will apply pressure every step of the way. As the game is played, we will probably stick to our original plan if we are winning, but are likely adjust our strategy if we fall behind.

Turning to business, as a manager and leader, we have goals and objectives that need to meet over a given period of time. These goals may be set by our boss, by our investors or in some cases, by ourselves. Good management practice suggests we should establish strategies and plans that enables us to deliver against these objectives.  After all, why bother setting goals if we are not going to try to meet them?  As in chess, when things are going well in business, we typically press on and stick with our initial plan.  But when the business climate changes and our organization begins to struggle, it’s time to adapt.

2. Play Your Moves in a Controlled Fashion

In chess, we have a series of pieces on the board. Each piece serves a purpose and has unique abilities and limitations. On a continuous basis, we deliberately examine the board and take note of where our pieces are, as well as those of our opponent. Our strategy to win reveals itself with every small move over the entire course of the entire game.

In business and in management, we are very much playing chess. We move people around and assign different work and tasks to be done.  We try to develop our staff and give them experiences that will help them be more effective in the future.  As with chess pieces, every employee has strengths and capabilities that are unique.  Our job is to best position our employees to maximize the value and benefit of their individual skills.  Good leaders don’t just delegate an assignment to the nearest person; they look at their players and assign work that best aligns with their skills as part of a larger plan and strategy.

And of course, we all have opponents out there: the global economy, corporate restructuring, constantly changing customer needs and business limitations. Such variables will impact our strategy and our moves within your organization.  When such factors impact us, they make us rethink our approach and redirect your plans.  Still, all of it takes place in a series of small moves.

3. Always Be Two Moves Ahead

In chess, they say good players have to be two moves ahead. To be good at the game, we need to anticipate the moves of our opponents, monitor changes, and think about how to counter. Doing so requires us to actively plan ahead and time our moves just right.

Good leaders often do things that go unnoticed because they are two steps ahead. We may assign work to a certain employee to help them develop a skill because in a 6 month time, we will need that employee to take over a project where that new skill is required.  Similarly, we may deliberately include items in our budget proposal that we can easily cut, knowing that budget pressures will force you to remove some projects before it gets approved.  The point is, being a good leader requires that we do things deliberately in anticipation of the next move. Good managers are always forward thinking.

This is what management is really about at its most basic level. It’s about strategy and moving people around to help our team succeed at meeting its goals. So while few of us may really compare to Bobby Fischer when it comes to the game of chess, we can learn from his skills and employ them to make us better managers and business leaders.

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