Get board

check.chess

When facing a defining moment you’re either playing checkers or chess. It’s up to you to know which one before making your next move.

Checkers, chess, management, and athleticism are built on the same foundation; success belongs to the visionary strategist who knows their game inside and out, plays regularly, and isn’t afraid to sacrifice along the road to victory.

Our ability to see the future, play out all possible moves, and control the game is rewarded.

Everything we do has consequences, from the food we eat to the friends we make, our decisions at work, and the choices we make during training. I’ve heard too often, “no good deed goes unpunished,” and over time I’ve come to realize that’s not an indictment of being nice, but of not considering potential outcomes.

Sometimes accommodating in the short term comes back to bite you. Think of the employee who legitimately needs the exception to a rule. In the moment there is no reason why not to bend. Later you realize you’ve just done it for one, which puts you in a lose-lose if you ever need to enforce the bent rule. The precedent is set, you must abide or be seen as unfair.

When making decisions like this you must become the chess master who looks the novice in the eye and asks, “are you sure?” Is that the precedent you want to set? What might you give up later? Do you really want to make that move?

My decision in the 2012 Ironman Lake Placid to swim with the pack in the midst of the churning fray of violence had its consequences. When swimming Mirror Lake, there are ropes under the water defining the horizontal swim course. Buoys are connected to the rope, and if you position yourself on either side you do not have to raise your head ever to site the buoys – just follow the rope beneath you.

The price paid for this choice is that hundreds of athletes have made the same one, making your swim violent and combative. Although you’ve chosen the shortest distance, the energy you’ll spend defending yourself is the price you’ll pay.

Check.

Others choose a wider berth from the rope, opting for a smoother swim with frequent sighting of the buoys and longer distance over the exertion of battle.

These choices mirror your moves on the checker and chess boards; strategic decision making with the best information you can gather to ensure success down the road. Perhaps giving up that rook, knight, or even a calm swim will be worth it in the end. Perhaps not.

I recall a checkers moment when every one of my opponent’s pieces was aligned for a quadruple jump. It was the Pat Griskus Olympic Triathlon in 2012 on the run when I saw the move. There were four people ahead of me spread out evenly along the beautiful, shaded Connecticut road, their pace just a bit faster than mine. My path was clear as I sped up and picked off the runners one at a time. At the finish they had helped me achieve a personal best run on the course.

King me.

While both demand forethought and strategy, checkers can be a faster, more impulsive game than chess, which can be a cerebral test of wills. My advice to you is to play these games on a regular basis. Find a partner or even a computer willing to test your skills and put your brain through the paces of some epic checkers and chess battles. Pay attention to how you’re challenged to think, then bring that same thinking into the workplace and your training.

There are times when you can clear the checkerboard in one move, and times when you must ponder unseen outcomes. Train your mind with checkers and chess. When the time comes to choose, you’ll know the difference and exactly what to do.

Check mate.

Make fear work for you

Fear

When you last felt fear did you use the opportunity to put it to work for you?

Fear is universal and touches each of us. At least it should, because if you’re not feeling fear on a regular basis you’re not taking any chances. Real progress happens outside our comfort zone and it’s natural, even expected, to ride that wave alongside fear.

My work environment is full of change at all levels and in every crevice of my organization. This has resulted in huge doses of fear and hope, which will battle each other if not handled properly.

Times like these expose true leaders who know fear means that something is about to happen and if you don’t turn into the wave, you’ll capsize.

Leaders use fear as a motivator to fuel a mission, describing a vision and that it will take every ounce of everyone’s effort to realize the dream.

Two years ago I entered an Xterra off road triathlon. Once on my mountain bike I knew I was in unfamiliar territory, having never done as difficult a course. There were huge rock gardens (long stretches of sharp-edged rocks) to ride over at blistering speeds. Giving into fear at that moment would have tensed my body and distracted my mind, resulting for sure in a crash.

Instead, I used the opportunity to concentrate on my breathing and melted into my bike, trusting it would work with me to conquer this challenging course.

I went with it, not against it.

Early on the course, I felt a tremendous rush of adrenaline, waking the butterflies in my stomach to an excited, anticipatory state. I began to look forward to the next rock garden.

I confronted fear, tamed it, and put it to better use.

It’s a proud moment when we realize the inevitable change we’re experiencing can be directed by us with hard work and focus.

I worked at United Way during its fundraising heyday, then in an instant the bottom fell out. The top UW exec, leader of our national organization, went down for embezzling money. In an instant, our team’s instinct was to fall back, retreat, clam up, no comment, oh no!

Then we met and talked it out, eventually coming to the conclusion we needed to be overly proactive, transparent, and honest.

  • We were outraged just like everyone else.
  • We held back our own UW’s dues to the national organization until they cleaned house.
  • We opened our books for all to see that our fundraised dollars were in fact going exactly where we said they were going.
  • And, we leaned on the organizations and individuals we had helped over the years to continue to tell our story.

The fallout was bad, but not as bad as it might have been had we cowered in fear and attempted to hide under the radar. It took vision, courage, and the conversion of fear to action. Instead of waiting for the phone calls, we made them. We wrote the letters, scheduled the meetings, and put ourselves out there. Attack versus retreat.

Decide to seek out situations that instill a healthy dose of fear in you. Train yourself to recognize fear, embrace the uncertainty it brings, and convert it to a type of energy and emotion that takes you to a new place.

Consciously work with fear, and not against it, so when it surprises you you’ll be prepared to cross the rock garden fast and unscathed.