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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Becoming More

My father taught me how to play chess when I was eight years old.

We'd play almost every Sunday after family lunch.

And no matter how hard I tried, he'd always beat me.

Until one Sunday, when I was about twelve years old and I managed to get him within one move of checkmate.

The game was absolutely, unquestionably mine as soon as my father made his next move.

My father took a moment to survey the board and confirm he really was trapped.

Then he slowly got up from his chair, said "I don't feel like playing anymore," and went to watch television. My Dad is a really great guy, but sportsmanship was never his strong suit.

My father saw my victory as his defeat.

I was reminded of my first chess victory against him two weeks ago when my oldest son, Aidan, beat me at chess for the first time.

I taught Aidan to play when he was five years old; that's a little young to learn such a complex game, but I was teaching his older sister to play and he wanted in on the fun.

I have never let my children win a game of anything -- they all know they have to earn every single one of their victories against me -- but in the early days, before each game, I'd ask, "Do you want this to be a real game or a teaching game?"

If my son said "teaching game", as he often would, I'd explain what I was doing as I played. And before he'd make a move, I'd offer him subtle hints or point out traps I had set that he clearly wasn't seeing.

Before long, he didn't need any more "teaching games": Aidan proved to be a natural.

First, he learned to recognize when I'd set up an easy capture "by accident" that would end up making him lose a more important piece... and refused to take the bait.

Next, he learned to see the whole board, and as such, would rarely get surprised by pieces lying in wait outside of the area that commanded his immediate attention.

Soon after he'd begin setting his own traps and waiting for you to fall victim to them. When you ruined one of his plans by making a move he didn't anticipate, he'd say something like, "You ruined my plan! But I have a Plan B." And he actually had a Plan B ready to execute.

Eventually, he wouldn't just try to beat you. He'd try to beat you creatively, perhaps by only using a few of his pieces or by not moving any pieces from one side of the board.

More often than not, Aidan would regularly trounce his older sister and his Mama at chess.

But until two weeks ago, he couldn't beat me.

I managed to remain a few steps ahead of him every time we played. But in recent months, after a few very close games, I realized I had to remain alert and give the game my full attention when I was playing against him if I wanted to win.

That's how I knew my undefeated streak would be coming to an end sooner rather than later.

And it ended two weeks ago.

I knew Aidan had me beat four moves before it happened: I was down to my King and an ill-positioned pawn, and he still had several additional pieces, including a rook and his queen. My defeat was inevitable.

I wasn't upset at the prospect of losing... because I didn't see my son's victory as my defeat.

Quite the opposite, in fact: as his instructor, my son's victory was also my victory.

The lesson here is the same for instructors, parents, and people managers.

If you're doing a good job teaching, there will very likely come a time when the people you're instructing will be as good as you are... and perhaps even better.

Embrace that: it proves you can not only win but can also teach others how to win too!

Getting beat by somebody you've taught doesn't mean you're less than what you were.

It means you're more.


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