Chess Not Checkers: Book Review

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Books which help leaders elevate their game are not unusual. However, Chess Not Checkers enters this busy arena promising new insights. So does it succeed?  The publisher of this book recently sent me the book for review so let’s see how it rates.

This is actually more of a short story and it is authored by Mark Miller, the Vice President of Leadership Development at Chick-fil-A. In this story you will find four leadership principles woven into the fictitious story of Blake, a newly appointed CEO at a floundering organization. Through weekly meetings with a mentor, the dialogue teaches us four principles of leadership which are all based on the metaphor of chess.

Mark-Miller1Miller’s metaphor purports that early on, businesses can play by the simple rules of checkers. However, at some point, they cross an invisible threshold where the rules change. These changes are akin to the complexity and strategy required in the game of chess which requires that we play at a new level. As such, effective leaders have to learn to play by new rules in order to thrive.

As business complexity increases, Miller outlines four principles which leaders must learn:

  1. You can’t wait until you need a leader to start developing one.
  2. A unified assault is always preferential over a fragmented one
  3. Win the hearts of your employees in order to engage them and leverage their skills.
  4. Excel at execution.

This book is reminiscent of classics such as Who Moved the Cheese (Spencer Johnson, 1998) and The Present (Spencer Johnson, 1984).  Those who enjoy an easy read on the plane or the beach during spring break will find this a great pick-up. Those who are looking for deep fresh content will find this to be merely an appetizer. Here is my rating:

  • The Good:  This book has accessible and usable information. However, it is also important information that you need to hear several times over your life!
  • The Bad: You’ve likely heard these ideas before.
  • Value: The shelf price of this hardcover book is $22.95. I’d be willing to pay $12.95 for 119 pages of content (that you will read from cover-to-cover in about 90 minutes).

This book was released on April 6, 2015.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

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