You Can’t Win if You Don’t Know How to Play

His real name was Harvard. But we called my wife’s grandfather Tampie. Don’t play checkers with Tampie. The outcome was foreordained.

He toyed with us whenever he convinced a sacrificial lamb to play. He let you think you were doing well. But in a flash, he jumped two or three of your pieces. When the dust settled, he chuckled, “Queen me.”

You can't win if you don't know how to play



You can’t win if you don’t know how to play. Playing checkers is a relatively simple game, but like everything else, there’s more to it than you think.


In the process of writing the HBR Leader’s Handbook, Ron Ashkenas and Brook Manville interviewed over forty successful leaders across different industries. They reviewed decades of articles from the Harvard Business Review to understand the recurring messages from academics and practitioners about what leaders should do.

They concluded there are six fundamental practices of leadership.

  1. Unite people around an aspirational vision.
  2. Decide what to do and what not to do to best achieve the vision. (Strategy)
  3. Attract and develop top talent to implement strategy.
  4. Focus on results in the context of the strategy.
  5. Innovate in ways that reinvent vision and strategy.
  6. Lead themselves. “… knowing and growing yourself so that you can most effectively lead others and carry out the above practices.”

(Adapted from: The Fundamentals of Leadership Still Haven’t Changed, HBR.)

What about encouragement?

In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner list five fundamental practices of leadership.

  1. Model the way.
  2. Inspire shared vision.
  3. Challenge the process.
  4. Enable people to act.
  5. Encourage the heart.

Notice “encouragement” isn’t on the list from HBR.

It’s not surprising that top leaders don’t mention encouragement. They often feel they don’t need it. They don’t have time for such frivolity until someone’s at the end of their rope.

What might you do today to encourage a colleague or team member?