Photography lesson

A six-year-old child, a chessboard and a lesson in excellence

My son, Caden, is fascinated by chess. He loves the strategy behind the game, but his love for chess has been an uphill battle. We’ve played every week for the past two months. And I’m lucky to say that he taught me the importance of striving for excellence through chess.

Before going into details, you must understand that Caden is a serious child. He is exceptionally competitive but tends to give up easily when something is difficult. Sounds like all six-year-olds, doesn’t it? It’s an interesting dynamic to experience as a parent. Mainly because I don’t want him to give up too soon. I want him to have fun, but I also want to develop his resilience. I want to push him hard, but not too hard.

I’ve read too many stories of very successful people who had difficult childhoods. How can I instill Rockefeller’s complex work values ​​without unhappiness? How can I teach him to become a chess master without the headache? It’s an age-old parenting conundrum. How hard are you pushing your child?

Alright, back to Caden’s wager.

Sometimes Caden decides to stop playing, runs away pouting, or knocks over pieces because I’m winning or coming for his queen. Again, a perfectly normal reaction for a six-year-old.

My first reaction was to scold him: “Caden, it’s just a game. You have to be a good sportsman. The only way to improve is to keep playing. Reprimand rarely works. He refuses to play and we both leave frustrated because he is six years old and I am a child in a man’s body.

This “storm” continued to occur week after week, until I decided to change tack. This is mainly due to my reading of Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic, in which he quotes Marcus Aurelius:

“Hold this thought close at hand when you feel a fit of rage coming on – it is not manly to be enraged. On the contrary, gentleness and civility are more human and, therefore, more manly. A real man does not give in to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage and endurance, unlike one who is angry and complaining.The closer a man is to a calm mind, the closer it is to the force.

I needed to calm my mind to help Caden relax. It is natural to get angry or to scold; it is human nature. It might make me feel better, but does it solve the problem? It wasn’t my son’s fault. He wants to learn how to play and win while doing so. I can’t fault him for having the competitive Lacy gene.

So I changed it. “I understand that you are upset. Let’s do it again. Would you like to start over from the beginning and I can explain the movements to you? He reacts differently now. He doesn’t go off in a hurry. He accepts and completes full sets as I train him through different moves. He just wanted a second chance.

Caden demonstrated two very different reactions, and both came from a place of seeking excellence. He wanted to win. He wanted to learn. He tried to succeed. But I had to learn to push and encourage him usefully and without being reactionary.

Now he’s excited to play and gets better every time we sit on the board.

All this to say that this same concept applies to our work. We must strive for excellence as individuals and as a team recognizing that we all approach the path to excellence differently. But how do you fully understand each path?

1. Use a guide to understand how we work and live. Use a personality profile like DiSC or CliftonStrengths to give you a common language your teams can use to better understand themselves and those they interact with. Most personality tests have a guide, but you can also choose to hire a consultant to guide you through the process.

2. Read The five dysfunctions of a team (Again). There is no better book to learn how to build confidence and efficiency within a team than Lencioni’s masterpiece. Read the book as a team and discuss the five steps to build trust, vulnerability and teamwork.

3. Hold a life story meeting. This is one of my favorite tactics for building trust within a team. Ask each of your direct reports to do a life story slide detailing their personal and professional triumphs and challenges. Give each teammate 15 minutes to talk about their slides. Encourage the team to be vulnerable, which will eventually build trust.

4. Customize the path. Everyone approaches work and their path to excellence differently and sets goals accordingly. For example, people with a high D (DiSC) will care more about the bottom line than a high I which can promote relationship building.

Ultimately, it’s about building trust. Trust is fundamental to a team that holds each other accountable in its pursuit of excellence. Personal goals matter, but much more critical is How? ‘Or’ What we strive for excellence and support those around us in their pursuit of excellence.

So the next time you’re close to anger or frustration with a colleague, calm your mind before you respond.


Kyle is fortunate to serve his family and the marketing team at Seismic.