Have you ever thought that you were really good at something, then faced the reality that there is someone better? This happened to me, and from a most unlikely source. My young nephew had just learned to play chess and in a very short period he had mastered the game. During one of my visits, he came home excited about what his teacher had taught him and challenged me to a match. Though I had not played in a while, I was confident that this newbie would not be able to beat me. Oh, was I wrong! In just four quick moves, he proudly announced “checkmate”.
You may be wondering why I shared that story. After recovering from the shock of being beaten by a nine-year-old, I resumed my own work, and had an aha moment. That four-move loss was a reminder that in today’s workplace, our career outlook and preparation is akin to a chess game. When playing chess, it requires that we evaluate the board and all of the pieces before we begin. We set up goals and think long-term about how we will make moves in the future play. It’s strategic. Regardless of tenure or rank in an organization, this approach should be applied to our careers-especially in the current climate of restructuring, mergers, downsizing and layoffs.
Here are three things that I learned from my nephew, not just about improving my chess game, but about navigating a career.
1. Learn the rules– When it’s your turn to make a move, make sure that you have spent time getting to know what’s expected and the landscape. Be sure that your skills and previous experience is needed in the new space. You will also want to identify the decision makers and what matters most to them. In short, when you learn the rules, you can leverage them to your advantage.
2. Understand the role of each game piece– Think of the people in your network like the pieces in your chess army. Make sure you know the capabilities and function of each piece. Some in your network serve as protectors, while others are there to clear the path. Use them wisely because everyone in your network is important, and can play a vital role depending on the path you take.
3. Listen to your teacher- For some this may be in the form of a mentor, but for others it means enlisting the services of a professional consultant or coach. Our egos often lead us to believe that we can buy a book or scour the internet for tips on how to win, or find examples of moves to make. In this instance, however, the best advice comes from the teacher who knows the game, has been playing the game well, and will give you real time instruction and feedback.
Very few of us began our careers thinking about the strategic moves required to arrive at our ultimate career goal. If we’re honest, even at this stage, seeing all that we’ve seen and experiencing what we’ve experienced, we probably need to be more strategic. Maybe we are hesitant to make any move at all, and would rather be stagnant and complacent than risk making a wrong move. One thing is certain, though, when we leave our moves to chance, we’ll likely find ourselves in a position of ‘check’ or worse, ‘checkmate’.
You may not want to take chess lessons from me, but when it comes to building and executing a strategy, my ‘students’ tell me that I’m a pretty good teacher! I’ve been called a strategist, problem solver, fixer, and even ‘The PhD Whisperer’. If you know it’s time for you to make a move, but aren’t sure what to do, let’s talk soon. I’d love to help you be in a winning position and boldly declare CHECKMATE!