Friday, 07:20, Old Bethnal Green Road, London
When I was a young boy my father taught me how to play chess. I still remember the old, wooden box, with its rough sides, defaced with purposefully made scratches that bore the signs of blue ink engravings, which had faded over time and were long gone. The lid of the box had a chipped edge, possibly due to careless moment; possibly mine, and I even remember the sound it used to make as it slid open to reveal the black and off-white chess pieces.
I remember this box so well; and I remember, with equal clarity, the countless time I played with my father, working very hard trying to beat him. I was fascinated by the game. Learning how to play chess must have been one of the first instances where I learnt about, or perhaps more correctly used, power and strategy for my own gain.
Fast forward 30 years or so and having read about stakeholder theory and power and politics at work, I’m equally fascinated to learn about this fundamentally human behaviour and how the game of chess is played out at an organisational level. The more I read the more I realise how complex and potentially overwhelming power and politics at work is. But also how important it is to have a structured understanding of this part of human behaviour, as it runs through individuals, teams, organisations and society at large. Whilst I’ve always known – and felt – the power of top-to-bottom decision-making; there are nuances of power that have surfaced to become clearer. And what were once hidden agendas and backstage planning are becoming tell-tale signs of a particular dimension and classification of power.
Ultimately it poses a question to individuals, from CEOs, line managers, direct reports and even myself, and that question is why?
Isn’t the King Powerless is a two-part entry where I share my thoughts on power and politics at work.