Mark Miller on “the leadership game”: An interview by Bob Morris


MillerMarkIn his own words….

I began writing over decade ago when I was fortunate to team up with Ken Blanchard on my first book, The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. Since then I’ve co-authored a second book with Ken, Great Leaders Grow. Since then, I’ve released The Secret of Teams, The Heart of Leadership, and my latest, Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game. With more than 700,000 books in print, covering almost 30 languages, I’m delighted to serve leaders through my writing.

In addition to writing, I love speaking to leaders. Over the years, I’ve traveled to dozens of countries for several international organizations encouraging and equipping leaders.

I also sell chicken. I started my Chick-fil-A career working as an hourly team member back in 1977. In 1978, I joined the corporate staff working in the warehouse and mailroom. Since then, I’ve provided leadership for Corporate Communications, Field Operations, Quality and Customer Satisfaction, Training and Development, and Organizational Effectiveness. Today I serve as the Vice President of Leadership Development. During my time with Chick-fil-A, annual sales have grown to over $5 billion.

I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart, Donna, for more than 30 years and we have two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a beautiful granddaughter.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Mark.

* * *

Morris: When and why did you decide to write Chess Not Checkers?

Miller: In 2010, I was in a strategic planning meeting with our leadership team. We were discussing the year 2020. The question was asked: “What do we want to be true in 2020 that isn’t true today?” I loved that question! The conversation that followed revealed our historical bias to serve our senior leaders. This had been a great strategy over the years but the growing complexity of our organization demanded a new approach. We made a shift from just building leadership capacity to building organizational capacity. The moves outlined in Chess Not Checkers are the result of our 4-year journey to determine how to unleash the passion, energy and creativity of the entire organization. We wanted to create High Performance Organizations.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Miller: We had scores of revelations during the research and writing of this project. For me, one of the biggest aha moments came when we saw the impact of alignment. One of our most significant findings was many front line workers didn’t know why what they were doing mattered. They don’t know the goals of the organization. They don’t know the values. They don’t know the key strategies. In many cases there was a total disconnect between leadership and the front line. When leaders began to close this gap, performance improved almost immediately! In the game of chess, a coordinated attack is always preferred to a fragmented one. This insight led to the second move we found in in High Performance Organizations: they act as One.

Morris: That reminds me of Saint Paul’s discussion of “many parts, one body” in First Corinthians. To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Miller: We learned so much during the research for this book, my instinct was to include too much detail in the book. My publisher challenged me to simplify the book – repeatedly. My editor said, “You’re not writing a Field Guide here!” So, the book did morph substantially as I slowly eliminated much of the tactical ideas. The good news for readers, I saved all that content. Much of it is now available in the Chess Not Checkers Field Guide.

Morris: In my review of the book for various websites, I suggest that all executives must now be able to play checkers or chess, depending on the nature and extent of complexity of the given situation. Your own thoughts about this?

Miller: I agree completely. The challenge for many leaders is they are slow to realize when the change from checkers to chess is needed. As I talk about in the book, problems are often the clue you’re playing the wrong game. Do you find yourself blindsided by significant problems? Are you responding to the same problems over and over again? Do you find your quality of life suffering? If so, it may be time to learn an entirely new game.

Morris: About 20 years ago at one of GE’s annual meetings, its then chairman and CEO was asked why he admires small companies so much. Here’s Jack Welch’s response:

“For one, they communicate better. Without the din and prattle of bureaucracy, people listen as well as talk; and since there are fewer of them they generally know and understand each other. Second, small companies move faster. They know the penalties for hesitation in the marketplace. Third, in small companies, with fewer layers and less camouflage, the leaders show up very clearly on the screen. Their performance and its impact are clear to everyone. And, finally, smaller companies waste less. They spend less time in endless reviews and approvals and politics and paper drills. They have fewer people; therefore they can only do the important things. Their people are free to direct their energy and attention toward the marketplace rather than fighting bureaucracy.”

Here’s my question. In your opinion, how relevant are these comments in 2015? Please explain.

Miller: I agree with Jack. Not because he articulated great tactics but because he shared timeless values: Communication, Speed, Transparency and Stewardship – none of these will ever go out of style or lose their relevance.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Mark cordially invites you to check out the resources at this website:

Great Leaders Serve & Chess Not Checkers link

Mark’s Amazon page link

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