In 1776, the new United States of America was fighting the best army in the world. George Washington needed a surprise to gain an advantage, so he made a daring crossing on the Delaware River above Princeton to engage the enemy.
Unfortunately for Washington, a loyalist spy named Moses Doan observed Washington and his boatload of soldiers and immediately notified British Colonel Jonathan Rall about the impending attack. But Doan was turned away because the Colonel was engaged in a heated game of chess. Since the Colonel left orders he was not to be disturbed during his chess match, Doan composed a terse note that read: “Washington is coming on you down the river. He will be here afore long.” Rall received the note but tucked it, unread, into his breast pocket.
Washington crossed the river and attacked.
Jonathan Rall was among the British soldiers shot dead. In his pocket — the unopened note.
One takeaway is that chess is a highly-engrossing game that paved the way for America’s victory during the Revolution. A better lesson is to remember to respond quickly to those who follow us. When those down the ladder tell us they have something important to say, the best leaders tune in. They are never too busy, nor disinterested.
Leadership is more about responding to the needs and concerns of others than most people realize. Not responding is the ultimate checkmate.