I have coached many people over the years – at all levels of an organisation – who treat their careers and work as a game of chess, waiting for the other party to make the first move.

This could be the next promotion, the next invitation to apply for a role, and the next decision to be made in the organisation’s restructure.

One of the most, if not the most important part of my role as a people and talent leader, was honesty. It’s natural for an organisation not to have all the right answers and want to follow a tight protocol on the information it shares – from recruitment to restructuring, to new roles and opportunities, but it doesn’t mean it’s right.

I’ve been frequently asked how I was able to deliver what I did through rapid change and shifting sands, and it’s this, honesty.

Being honest with myself

  • What’s my zone of genius?
  • What do I know?
  • How can I help?
  • Who else can I bring into the conversation?
  • Keep listening to

Being honest with the situation and opportunity

  • Helping to clear the way – the line of sight – as much as I could.
  • How can I help them?
  • What’s best for them, right now?
  • Who can support, how can we support?
  • Keep listening.

Much of our life is spent working – whether through voluntary work, career, business. We can also think that working starts with education as we work hard to achieve grades and start to work out what it is we want to do for the rest of our lives.

Work matters.

To shape our future, our children’s future, then work matters. it gives humans meaning and purpose. To consciously and actively understand the work that matters to each of us is key.

Let me tell you a story about James (name changed for confidentiality).

James is a successful leader in his field with 30 years of experience. He is pondering whether to change careers or stay and wait for the next promotion – which may be a while.

In his own words, James loves his organisation. Has achieved many promotions and delivered large successful and ground-breaking projects.

James is a high performer and an overthinker. He puts everyone – including his organisation – before himself because he is grateful and doesn’t want to let them and his team down.

There is no arrogance here. He cares.

He was adamant that he was clear about what he wanted to do next, but as he was describing it to me, it wasn’t clear.

I asked him what he was known for and how I could help him shape his future.

More words came out and I could see his overthinking and a glimpse of hesitancy.

I challenged him and he laughed, and said ‘that’s a good point’.

I described life as a chess board, and asked him what part he played?

He was waiting for someone else to make the first move so that he could find a solution and help. Leading from the front. Bringing teams together. Getting stuff done.

I get it.

Organisations readily (I did too!) put together succession plans and help people to navigate their careers to ensure retention. Yet, succession plans and promotions can lull high performers into a channel that, when no longer visible or really there, creates uncertainty and an expectation that something will come along.

James was that person. He was saying that something would come up. I’d do anything. Then listed a whole host of things he wouldn’t do.

What would you do?

Why?

What else?

The magic happened. The real story – his cause. The dream – what he really wanted to do next. The details weren’t clear but the image came alive.

Here’s the problem and the opportunity.

If you want to create opportunities, live YOUR life. There will be a million job titles, but each person will be doing that role a) for a different reason and b) with a different approach.

  • Be clear on your values.
  • Understand what it is you really want – your dream and vision for YOUR life.
  • Understand your cause. What’s driving you? Why? Where do you want to be in 10, 15, 20 years time?
  • Why does it matter?
  • What connects your heart with your head?

Much has been written about leadership and chess. I enjoyed the article written by Alan Trefler, founder and CEO of Pegasystems who at the age of 19 tied for first place in the World Open Chess Championship.

Trefler shares a three-phase approach to help him make the best decisions:

  1. Recognising the patterns. Turning the game to your advantage by understanding and recognising the patterns of your oponents.
  2. Run candidate moves by taking an if-then decision-tree approach.
  3. Evaluate your overconfidence. Before you move, ask yourself “Am I missing anything obvious that could totally derail my decision or wipe me out?”.

When you are clearer on your big dream – the vision for your life, connecting the cause – it’s much easier to make the decisions and moves. Each move will connect you to it.

Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels


Juliet is an award-winning executive coach, consultant, and leader. Over the next 10 years, her mission is to shape a million futures, one leader at a time, by igniting possibilities and elevating their extraordinary.

To work with Juliet, book an initial callsubscribe to Quest, or download her free guide.

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