I’ll admit that I am an awful card player. Even though I would get destroyed in a high-stakes game, I have always admired the tenacity, mental fortitude, and the surprising complex mental game happening underneath the cards in the players’ hands.
There are several things that we can learn from poker players to help strengthen our own leadership and teams.
Learn to read people well
A professional poker player becomes an artist when it comes to reading other people’s body language or “tells”. From the vein on your neck that moves as your heartbeat increases to abnormal eye movements and fidgeting, a great poker player picks up on the smallest nuances to get an understanding of what’s going on in your head.
We talked before about the power of body language. Just as there is power in how you exhibit and leverage your body language in communication, there is also power in how you correctly observe and assess other people’s body language. Slow down and take time to observe others. We’ll cover how to grow your observation skills in the upcoming episode: Growing Your Observation Skills.
Having a strong ability to grow your observation skills, can help you fully access the situation at hand, what the true undercurrent of the conversation is, and potentially address the root cause of an issue before it worsens.
Strengthen your Self-Management skills
In addition to great observation skills, a solid poker player also has to have strong self-management skills. Just as you are observing others, those same people are also observing you. Being able to control yourself in stressful and high stakes situations is essential if you want to keep your money.
As you learn to strengthen your self-management skills reflect on past experiences and seek to find and understand what your “tic” is. I know a leader that begins to shake his leg in the chair when he’s frustrated. Others roll their shoulders as they tighten up with stress, and breathe differently when they are upset. If you aren’t sure what your tells are to others, ask those that are close to you and are fairly observant. They can give you the extra insight to understand how you are communicating with others without even knowing it.
Be a risk-taker and be willing to fold
Poker players are certainly risk-takers. In fact, every hand that they play has some level of risk involved, because they don’t have all the information at the table. If they did, it really wouldn’t be a fun game. As a leader, you’ve also got to be a solid risk-taker. Without risk, you won’t change and without change, you won’t be relevant in the future. See examples: Sears, Blockbuster, K-mart, and others. Lean into risk and step out of your comfort zone to grow.
As one player takes a risk in order to push another player or to learn their body language, they also know when it’s time to fold and walk away.
Let go of emotional attachments to processes, projects, and even people sometimes, so that you can let go of things that aren’t healthy for you or your team. Outside of the emotional aspect, people have a tendency to hang on too long just out of stubbornness. They don’t want to feel like a loser or that their way is antiquated. Help those people see the why behind the change and provide them with tangible steps to get from point A to point B. Then schedule regular check-ins to help support the person.
Be the poker player in your leadership and life; learn the full story that the people around you are telling, have strong self-management, and take some risks. You’ll begin to realize that a deck of cards can be a start to becoming an artist when it comes to engaging with others.
Make a better tomorrow.