Checker-playing Managers vs. Chess-playing Managers: Thinking Strategically

                Marcus Buckingham, in his 2005 Harvard Business Review article “What Great Managers Do,” said that average managers play checkers, great managers play chess, and great leaders rally people around what is universal and capitalize on that (Buckingham, 2005).  As someone who prefers leadership to management, I agree with this sentiment.

                The average manager plays checkers because they see every person as the same, with the same capabilities, really doing the same kind of work.  Great managers playing chess can see the differences between people and use those people appropriately for their strengths.  A great manager sees those different strengths, different skills, and helps each individual to succeed in his or her own way.  Leaders look past those individual differences to move people using stories and other motivation, communicating a vision, and tapping into shared needs (Buckingham, 2005).  Checker-playing (average) managers come to mind, as well as chess-playing (good) managers that I have worked with over the years.

                Buckingham’s analogy is apt, regarding managers, however, it is focusing only on human management and not conceptual nor human management.  There are four main functions of a manager:  planning, organizing, leading, and controlling.  These apply to all forms of management, whether managing a company, team management, product management, or project management (Quinn, 2010, p.12-13).  Managers use conceptual, technical, and human management skills, where conceptual management is managing using the vision, mission, and objectives, formulating the big picture. Technical management is managing using specialized expertise.  Human management is being able to manage individuals and groups (Quinn, 2020, p.14).  This human management skill is what Marcus Buckingham referred to as the checkers or chess.  Leaders leverage the conceptual and human management skills most.

                These same qualities are important for project managers.  Like chess players, a project manager has to determine what resources are best to deploy to accomplish the project’s objective, considering risks, impacts, costs, and quality.  Different people have different skills and dispositions.  It is a project manager’s responsibility to determine how to use those people the best way possible in projects.  It is indeed a game of chess.  A checker player would make a poor project manager, unable to identify what resources to deploy where, and when, to do what tasks.


Buckingham, M. (2005, March). What Great Managers Do. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Quinn, S. (2010). Management Basics. Retrieved from

Published by Art Ocain

I am a DevOps advocate, not because I am a developer (I’m not), but because of the cultural shift it represents and the agility it gains. I am also a fan of the theory of constraints and applying constraint management to all areas of business: sales, finance, planning, billing, and all areas of operations. My speaking: I have done a lot of public speaking in my various roles over the years, including presentations at SBDC (Small Business Development Center) and Central PA Chamber of Commerce events as well as events that I have organized at MePush. My writing: I write a lot. Blog articles on the MePush site, press-releases for upcoming events to media contracts, posts on LinkedIn (, presentations on Slideshare (, posts on the Microsoft Tech Community, articles on Medium (, and posts on Quora ( I am always looking for new places to write, as well. My certifications: ISACA Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), Certified Web Application Security Professional (CWASP), Certified Data Privacy Practitioner (CDPP), Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), VMware Certified Professional (VCP-DCV), Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE), Veeam Certified Engineer (VMCE), Microsoft 365 Security Administrator, Microsoft 365 Enterprise Administrator, Azure Administrator, Azure Security Administrator, Azure Architect, CompTIA Network+, CompTIA Security+, ITIL v4 Foundations, Certified ScrumMaster, Certified Scrum Product Owner, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner See certification badges on Acclaim here: My experience: I have a lot of experience from developing a great company with great people and culture to spinning up an impressive DevOps practice and designing impressive solutions. I have been a project manager, a President, a COO, a CTO, and an incident response coordinator. From architecting cloud solutions down to the nitty-gritty of replacing hardware, I have done it all. When it comes to technical leadership, I am the go-to for many companies. I have grown businesses and built brands. I have been a coach and a mentor, developing the skills and careers of those in my company. I have formed and managed teams, and developed strong leaders and replaced myself within the company time and again as I evolved. See my experience on LinkedIn here:

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