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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game by Mark Miller

Chess Not Checkers by Mark MillerChess Not Checkers:  Elevate Your Leadership Game by Mark Miller. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 144 pages. 2015

The latest book from Mark Miller helps leaders elevate their leadership, looking at leadership as chess, rather than checkers. I have previously enjoyed Miller’s The Secret (with Ken Blanchard) and his previous book The Heart of Leadership. See my review of The Heart of Leadership here

This book is written as a story or parable, much like the books of Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni or Miller’s previous books. We meet Blake who leaves his position at Dynastar to take on his first CEO assignment at a small organization that has a good product, but is not being led well. In fact, Blake is the fifth CEO in the past ten years. On his first day he is stunned at the culture he walks into. He knows he has a lot of work ahead of him if he is going to be successful. He needs help so he reaches out to his long-time mentor Debbie, who herself had been mentored by Blake’s late father. As much as Debbie has helped him in the past she feels that he needs mentoring from someone who has been a CEO in the past, and was very good at leading large and complex organization. So Debbie connects Blake with Jack.

Blake begins a mentoring relationship with Jack, who uses the games of chess and checkers to help Blake elevate his leadership game and try to turn his new company into a high performance organization. Jack share four leadership moves, applied from the game of chess, with Blake. Blake then takes what he has learned back to his leadership team. He meets some resistance and realizes that as Jim Collins has written in Good to Great that he not only needs to get the right people on the bus, but he needs to get the wrong people off the bus as well. Not all of Blake’s current leadership team buys into his vision for the future and thus they have to go.

I really enjoyed following Blake’s leadership journey in this story, but much more so the valuable lessons Miller brings out in this short book. Although you can read the book in just a few hours, I recommend that you take a different approach. Read and discuss the book with your current leaders or mentees, taking time to discuss in depth each of the moves and principles Jack shares with Blake.

Miller currently serves as Vice President for Leadership Development for Chick-fil-A, an organization I very much admire. I’m very excited that a new Chick-fil-A restaurant is being built at this time in my community. Don’t forget to check out Mark Miller’s website at

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