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Chess and Leadership


I want to draw a comparison between playing chess, being a leader, and facing confrontations.

In the past, we used to do a lot of running together. Some people had an aversion to running, and it often told a lot about where they were at spiritually. Overall, however, there was enough group momentum, so that the people who tried to talk their way out of going for runs were more or less dragged along by the enthusiasm of the rest of us.

The results were good, both physically and spiritually. Practically everyone who was in our group for six months or longer at some stage clocked an impressive time over a run of a mile or more... even though natural running ability had nothing to do with their selection as part of the community to begin with. In other words, we showed that just about any male could run a mile in less than six minutes with a little faithful discipline, and just about any female could do the same in seven minutes or less.

But now we're older, and more arthritic, etc. so the impetus to run has died down.

However, now we have chess. It too is a challenge, only this time it's a mental challenge rather than a physical one. Chess may also have a further quality which makes it scary for some people: It is more openly competitive. Even with a handicap system, the results (apart from a stalemate) are absolute: Someone wins and someone loses. That is scary for some people.

But if chess and running are both so terrible, we must ask ourselves why it is that so many people indulge in them without being paid to do so, and without being punished if they do not indulge. The reason is because both disciplines provide intrinsic rewards in terms of confidence and well-being. These come when they see that they are making progress.

I said I was going to relate this to leadership. It seems that the same people who shy away from chess (nearly everyone in the community) also shy away from leadership (again, almost everyone in the community). There may not be any correlation at all there, but I would like to consider the possibility that there is.

The Bible says the sun "rejoices like a strong man to run a race". It's not that the strong man doesn't get tired like everyone else, but he has learned to accept tiredness as part of the overall enjoyable experience of winning (or at least posting a good time).

The same would be true for chess players. A good chess player looks forward to the challenge. There comes a point in each game where your mind seems to dig in and say, "I can't be bothered with working out what is going to be the result of this move; I'm just going to make it and hope for the best." (Usually it ends with the worst!)

But as you keep pushing against this mental fatigue, you start to get a sharper picture of exactly what is happening on the board. As your skill improves, things that were total mysteries when you first began playing, start becoming clear. Soon you find yourself "rejoicing as a smart person to play a chess game."

As St. Paul would put it, this is a "mystery"; for I am not talking about chess or running, so much as I am talking about leadership. The responsibility of being a leader is an exciting adventure when you start learning some of the principles that operate in a good leader. And confrontations? Why they're the most exciting part of all, whether it's with churchies on the streets, the media in interviews, police in court, or business people when doing business. If you have the answers (as most of us do by now, when confronted with churchies) it's not so much a matter of just winning the argument, but rather of doing it with such finesse and flair that it becomes one to remember in your mental scrapbook.

The same can be true of other confrontations as well. I remember the long hours I had to put into the arguments for the nappy court case before presenting them in court. I was up almost all night preparing them. In my memory, the actual appearance was one of the greatest experiences of my life. There I was totally whipping those guys at their own game. They thought they were the experts and I was just a silly religious fanatic, but I know that I had won their respect by the end of my case. The judge ruled against me, but he and everyone else in the court knew that his ruling was in total opposition to the justice of the matter, as I had so clearly shown.

Obviously for us as Christians, the rules differ slightly in determining what amounts to a "victory". I felt victorious in the court, even though the judge ruled against me; because I knew that he was consciously going against the truth that he had already acknowledged in my arguments. The same is true of other confrontations. Just cutting a churchy to ribbons is nowhere near as satisfying as it is to get him or her to actually see and acknowledge the truth of what we have said (even if they still end up, like the judge, ruling against us because of their rejection of the truth).

The rules differ slightly when dealing with business people. However, some of them are the same. Just as I had to study the laws about distributing religious material in order to present my case well in the court, so I need to recognise some of the principles that operate in the economic world when dealing with printers, travel agents, car salesmen, etc. Unlike the rest of the business world, making a profit is not our final goal. However, getting a good price on what we are buying is part of the overall plan. And making a budget cover as many projects as possible is another part of the overall plan. Learning how to do these things should be at least as exciting as learning how to set up an effective "fork" or "pin" in chess, or how to hold back on the first lap so that you will have something left for the third lap in a mile race.

It's encouraging to hear that a few people have resolved to discipline themselves with regard to playing chess this year, particularly because they see it as part of a larger goal, i.e. to accept more decision-making responsibilities (and the criticisms that go along with making wrong decisions at times). The criticisms are nothing more than the physical or mental fatigue that go with running or playing chess. No matter how strong the runner is, he still gets tired. And successful leadership doesn't just land in your lap at the end of a successful campaign for election. Successful leadership, like success in any endeavour, comes from facing the discipline and actually learning to "rejoice" in it.

(See also Burying your Talent, and 'Conscience' Issues.)

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