RSS Leadership Lessons Learned by Playing Poker

I have a group of buddies that I’ve enjoyed playing poker with for over 20 years. While it gives you some idea as to my age and my appetite for gambling (trust me, these are very small stakes), what I think is interesting is that I have actually learned lessons I think are appropriate in the world of business today.

  • Lesson #1 – You can’t win all the time. In the 20+ years I’ve been playing with this group, I would say I am slightly less than break-even in my total “winnings.”  It may be because I’m an awful player or that my friends are more skilled — or that I have bad luck more frequently than I have good luck. No matter the reason, the fact remains that sometimes I win and sometimes I lose. It’s that way in poker and it’s that way in life.
  • Lesson #2 – In order to win big, you must accept risk. As I see things, there is risk in everything we say and do. There is risk in the relationships we form – their strength depends upon our words and actions. The same holds true for the decisions we make in our organizations. One “bluff” on either count can spell a loss, or worse, a total defeat. Like in poker, we must accurately weigh all risks before “showing our cards.”
  • Lesson #3 – You must play both your own and your opponent’s cards. There are a lot of variables to consider when you play cards, just as there are in business. It is important to understand the “people component” in everything we do, as well as deal with the unknown variables that can make the difference between winning and losing. It’s a matter of knowing when to stay engaged and when to sit back (fold your hand). And, you must do both to enjoy the best chance of success.
  • Lesson #4 – Don’t back down if you have a winning hand. We all get reticent when we think others have the advantage over us. The same is true in poker. What’s important to remember is that sometimes people are “bluffing,” or portraying a hand of strength when they don’t have it. We must remain confident in ourselves and assume all associated risks when we know we have the winning formula. Failure to act when you have the winning hand is a failure in leadership.
  • Lesson #5 – When all is said and done, poker is just a game. When playing a game, the object isn’t just to win, it’s to have fun. It’s to make memories. It’s to bond with others. The same is true about business and about life. While business isn’t a game, those who find the most success are those that find enjoyment in the strategy, take appropriate risks, and relish in the boundless relationships that are cultivated and nurtured.

For me, playing poker isn’t just about winning (maybe it should be?), it’s about everything else that makes life special: laughter, friendship, learning new things, applying what I’ve learned, making memories. We can find these outcomes in everything we do if we play our cards right!

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Home About Archive Mitch HagstromMitch Hagstrom
Executive Vice President
Chief Banking Officer
Pacific Continental Bank

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