One of the great crazes of today is Texas No-Limit Hold’em Poker. I personally enjoy playing to explore the dynamics of taking risks. While not a team enterprise, by its very nature of being a gambling activity, it provides fine illustrations of the risk propensity definition of the Leader/Manager dichotomy.
Unlike many gambling games, you are not playing against the ‘house’, but instead against other players. In this regard, skill plays a strong role above and beyond the playing the pure odds of each hand. In fact, players who simply wait for good hands are viewed dismissively as ‘just playing the cards’. Good poker players can still handily beat players who have gotten better cards than they have. Nonetheless, risk is central to every move and working that risk by making effective decisions (like a Leader/Manager) is key to success.
The very first principle of poker is that you are not betting on what cards will come up, but rather how players will behave. One has to be able to estimate both…
(a) given a certain behaviour by an opponent, then what is the likelihood of what cards they are holding (ie. reading a player), and
(b) given a certain behaviour that you exhibit (ie. raising a bet), what is the likelihood of the behaviour (eg. calling, folding, re-raising) that they will exhibit.
It is playing the risks around people’s behaviour that is the heart of poker. All the more so with online poker where since you do not have a physical presence you do not have nearly as many ‘tells’ which are subtle physical behaviours (eg. NLP, body language) that provide immensely useful data for #a above.
There are lots of parallels with business. ‘Reading’ a marketplace often entails considerable risk because market data can have lots of gaps, contradictions and uncertainties. And taking business actions – pricing, new products, new markets – all entail a response from other market ‘players’ – namely customers, partners and competitors – that all needs to be assessed.
The ‘Leaders’ of the Texas Holdem World are the ‘loose’ players. What Phil Hellmuth calls the ‘Jackals’ or Brad Daugherty calls ‘Reckless Rick or ‘Action Al’. The ‘Managers’ of the poker world are ‘tight’ players. What Daugherty calls ‘Tight Ted’. And Hellmuth dubs the ‘Mouse.’ As with the ‘Leader’ and ‘Manager’ characterisations, Hellmuth and Daugherty do not assert that one of these two types is any more effective than the other, just different. Similarly, their style of play can have strengths and weaknesses in different hands and contexts of play.
Phil Hellmuth has a great description of a ‘Jackal’ and the impact his approach has on his ‘business results.’ the description could easily apply to many high-flying, ‘visionary’ CEOs making big bets, scoring big wins and then suffering just as dramatic problems.
“The jackal is loose and wild, and some days it seems as though he’s just giving his money away. Because he’s involved in so many pots and raises so often, his play can take some pretty big swings. The jackal can hurt you and himself too because he puts in so many bets…He’s good at raising pots at the right times…and when he does at last win a pot, it’s generally huge! If a jackal runs hot by catching good cards for a while, you may be convinced that he’s the best player in the world, but when his cards come back to earth, he can lose money as fast as he won it.”
However, both Hellmuth and Daugherty come to the conclusion that a separate breed of player that effectively combines aggressiveness with sensibility makes for the champion poker player. The paragon ‘Leader/Manager’ would be that individual who is able to balance ambitious risk taking with careful risk management. Daugherty calls this type ‘Solid Sam’ and describes him as ‘aggressive when he plays a hand, but always seems to select the right situations and turns over strong cards at the showdown.’ Hellmuth calls this paragon ‘type’ the ‘Eagle’ persona describing more colourfully, ‘The eagle is a rare bird…He flies around the sky and swoops down to eat other animals’ chips when he’s hungry!’