There’s a real human talent in arranging the right pressures (positive and negative), at the right time, on to the right people, to get a desired result. It’s a hallmark of effective leadership, in fact, and the name “People Chess” is an easy way to summarize this talent. And we all know its uses in relationships of all kinds, really, both to us by others and by us to others.
Every organization is led by someone with this talent, and every organization has several people who are strongly playing People Chess. And it’s not only used in leadership: It’s also used by people pursuing a leadership position in order to establish the early hierarchy that leads to that position. And it can even be used during a temporary leadership position such as deciding where a group will go for lunch!
And it’s certainly not without risks and misuses. Hardly! Like actual chess, it’s even possible to play People Chess well and still lose—so we need to improve our skills as far as we can, if we want to play. However, unlike actual chess, it is also possible for People Chess to be played poorly, or to be played for nefarious purposes (shamefully), and then folks on the chess board—who are not pieces, but people!—can be hurt. Sometimes badly, and sometimes irrevocably.
The best results in People Chess for an organization will be had from maintaining good ethics towards both those you lead and your peers. It can become very complicated, as there are dozens, if not many thousands, more dimensions to People Chess than to an actual chess game. However, a good strategy starts with a positive goal and flows from there. And People Chess in an organization has a priority default of three drivers to consider for the best team results: What’s best for the people in the team, what’s best for the organization, and what’s best for you.
And know that you will not always be able to arrange that priority within every move of People Chess. Realistically, there is no “best for the people in the team”, for example, if another player has a bad motivation in a move that forces you to consider the organization first in your reply move. And that's okay. Just be careful with it.
Finally, don’t forget that, though People Chess exists no matter whether we choose to play or not, we have a human responsibility to sincerely aim at a good outcome for those involved. No matter how anyone else plays, aim to do right by the people that you work with and lead.
Because, if you take shortcuts towards your goal that will hurt people, then just hope you never play People Chess like that against me. Or against someone like me who cares about people, not pieces.
Aim high and positive, do right by others, and rally your skills in People Chess. Your organization needs you! :)