Poker, The Game of Life & Leadership

In the beginning there was Poker; at least for me. This post has been brewing inside my head for the last 30 years. Only now and through this medium can I finally explain an odd parallel that has accompanied me throughout my waking and working life.

As a child I recall having been introduced to the game of poker by watching my father play, for fun, with friends and colleagues. As I matured so did my knowledge of poker and by the time I started my first job I was quite in love with the game. The fact is that I’ve always found strong associations between poker and life in general.

With this article I want to draw together two fundamentals of my life experiences into one meaningful cocktail. The two ingredients are a) being a better leader / colleague / person and b) my passion for the game of poker. I can hear the nervous rustling of anxious readers asking themselves what the two subjects can possibly have in common. Well, read on and let’s see how and why I mix the two.

Let me just add a small detail; when I refer to poker and its terminology I’m concentrated on the classic Five Card Draw game. Over the last decade, poker, in the Texas hold’em form, has become all the rage; with formats for television, internet and video games. Personally, I prefer the older form of poker that dates back to the early to mid 1800’s Wikipedia. Whatever your pleasure, the philosophy behind poker is a common denominator and the primary appeal for me.

If we consider that the game developed in a Wild West context, we can begin to understand how it reflected the daily struggles of life. Money has always been an important means of trading [and betting], but there were also other, more ancient manners of bartering and bargaining with commodities of all types. In fact, it has often been an integral part of poker, with players being known to bet treasured objects, livestock, real-estate, etc. when hard cash was in short supply.

The beauty of poker is that it is one of the few games I know of where you can win without having a winning hand. It is all about psychology and the ability to read your opponents intentions and at the same time, hiding your tactics. I’ll stop here for now as I could probably write a book or two on this subject, but I don’t want to bore stiff people who may not be interested in the game, per se. I’ll simply finish with a movie tip; for a good example of how poker intertwines with life may I suggest “The Sting (1973)” IMDB.

If you are now intrigued by the above introduction then please read on for my 20 point Poker to Life to Leadership conversion list. If you enjoy the article then grab (at the end of the post ) my accompanying training lab poster that summaries the guide.

Links to A4 and hi res poster at end of article

Poker <> Life <> Leadership

The Stake <> Make the best of the tools you have. You have to have something to start with in order to play. As a future leader, the stakes are your education, ethics and enthusiasm; later on it will be your life and work experiences.

The Table <> Know which table is right for you. Not all job opportunities are going to be appropriate for you. Try to choose well the table you want to play on; it’s going to be a long game so try to make yourself comfortable where you will be happiest.

The Stack <> Learn how to organize your assets. You need to recognize your abilities [and your faults] and keep them organized so that you don’t find yourself stumbling for answers when under pressure.

The Ante <> You have to pay to play; no free rides. Without paying the antes in life you will be excluded from participating; all work projects should begin with everyone chipping in an initial contribution. Learn to give in order to receive.

The Shuffle <> Learn to avoid fixed games. In any profession you will encounter toxic and unscrupulous people who don’t play by the rules. Learn to identify possible traps and how to avoid them otherwise you’ll be playing a losing game. By the same token, cheating will shorten your career.

The Cards <> Learn the rules & the tools of the trade. A leader, more than anyone else, has to know the rules and which tools to have at hand. The workforce is also part of your arsenal, and you must learn to engage your staff and promote healthy collaboration. This can only come from understanding the people you lead and learning how to maximise harmony and efficiency.

The Hand <> Learn how to read the cards you’re given. Knowing the rules is of no use if you don’t understand how to apply them to tasks. In most professions there are a finite number of possible combinations of tasks; learn, as early as possible, all the permutations you can to become more efficient. Success often relies on a quick reading, interpretation and understanding of the cards you’re given.

The Odds <> Know the value & potential of your hand. Don’t treat every project the same. Some will be more profitable than others; some will require more attention than others. Learn how much effort has to be invested based on the odds of the project being successful or not and what return you can expect.

The Pass <> Patience is a virtue; don’t always rush in. You can’t expect to play every hand; you have to learn how to prioritize and give due attention to the tasks that will be the most important or advantageous. Remember that a leader cannot do everything; learn to delegate. Passing also allows you to observe others, reset mentally and organize yourself for the next round.

The Fold <> Learn how to say NO & pace yourself. Mistakes and errors in judgement are part of a leader’s life. The trick is to learn to identify the early warning signs of failure and bail out in time to avoid pursuing lost causes. Knowing when to say no is also a sign of humility; don’t let pride lead you to failure.

The Bet <> Learn to invest wisely & proportionately. Your resources are rarely limitless. You must know just how much can be invested in order to gain a proportional return. In tasks and projects learn how much of your workforce to invest; don’t give ten people the same assignment. Delegate well and you’ll always have enough resources to confront your workday and eventual emergencies

The Change <> Know how to improve your hand. As a leader you must remain flexible. Some projects will have hidden surprises that need to be addressed on-the-fly. In order to improve and keep the project and your workforce on track learn to choose what changes need to be made and when.

The Bluff <> Learn risk taking but don’t make it a habit. There will be times when a calculated risk, a modest bluff, will be the only way to fix a wrecked project. Stay vigilant to avoid finding yourself in these situations. Remember, the golden rule is honesty is the only policy. Learning the bluffing technique can be an excellent tool to help you spot others bluffing but it doesn’t mean you have to apply it yourself.

The Raise <> Be confident & put your offer on the table. Don’t be afraid to make your voice heard. If you know your ideas are sound then make them known. Engage your workforce into think-tanking, too; an ingenious idea can come from anyone, anywhere, anytime. Put forward or promote ideas and raise the stakes.

The Re-Raise <> Expand when you are really confident. Some assignments will bring out the cream of the cream; one brilliant idea will be usurped by an even better one. A leader needs to promote, not stifle, creativity and by doing so, put on the table the largest possible prize.

The Showdown <> Revel in wins; learn from defeats. The time will come to show your cards; to show the fruits of you labours. Any project will either be a win or a failure. Win or lose, a leader has to take responsibility; wins should be celebrated with the workforce and losses should be studied to avoid repeated mistakes. Pointing fingers is caustic, non constructive and never a good idea, even towards oneself.

The Pot <> Reap the benefits of victories. With victory and success comes benefits and enrichment. For a leader, the winnings can be new experiences, promotions and financial gains. Don’t squander your winnings, instead, reinvest what you gain into future projects. Also, don’t brag and lose your head about winning because if you lose your focus you could just as easily lose the next hand.

The Tip <> Tip the dealer; praise a job well done. “No Man is an Island”, when you achieve success there is often a whole team behind the victory. Make sure to identify, acknowledge and reward the people that made the win possible. Praising is viral and creates waves of contentment throughout your workforce.

The Reputation <> Play fair & well; build a reputation. Your reputation is like the effect of a passing ship. It is your bow wave, what precedes you, and your wake, what you leave behind. Building a good reputation takes time but it can allow you to play on the best tables and ultimately, it will be your legacy. Honesty, integrity, humility and professionalism are the key ingredients to a good reputation. Anything less will also confer a reputation…a bad one.

The End <> Know when to cash-in your winnings. Every game must come to an end. The trick is to know when to leave the table. It is better to finish on a high, having profited from your career rather than being forced to retire through failure. Even when you don’t actively play anymore it doesn’t mean you have to abandon the game; you can still watch and mentor others if you feel that you still have something to give. Ultimately, the important thing is to be content, knowing that you played the Game of Life honestly, intelligently and to the best of your ability.

I hope everyone enjoyed this article and was able to take some useful advice from it.

For the accompanying poster:

Download A4 / A3 pdf version

Download full high resolution png version. LARGE 8.8Mb 3508 x 4961


4 thoughts on “Poker, The Game of Life & Leadership

  1. I got my promotion!
    Merry Christmas Enzo
    and thank you for another excellent post 😉
    i printed a copy for my new boss, i think hes gonna like it!

  2. Hello Carmen and a Very Merry Christmas to you, too. 🙂

    I’m very happy to hear about your promotion…you have every reason to be proud of yourself.

    Thanks for sharing this post with your boss, I hope he enjoys it as much as I did making it.

    Take care,

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