Success in poker requires a number of things. Sometimes, it requires luck. If you don’t get a good hand, it’s a lot harder to win than when you’re dealt a pocket pair. Of course, sometimes you’re dealt pocket aces and you still end up losing.
Such is life, but in a lot of very good ways, poker is nothing but life painted across a much smaller canvas.
Yes, that sounds a little philosophical, but it’s true. The things that make you good at poker (determination, focus, ability to absorb and analyze data) are the things that make you good at lots of things in life. There are very few situations in which a fast mind and the ability to reason quickly aren’t going to be helpful.
That’s why I believe playing poker can make you a better boss or employee and not just because I’m looking for an excuse to play more. Seriously, if you are a manager of people, the skills you learn at the poker table will make you a better leader.
Even if you don’t manage people, poker will teach you to be more successful, help you get better at what you do, and allow you to experiment at life in the friendly confines of a game you love.
Become a Better Boss: Reading People
A major part of being a manager, employer, or boss is the ability to read people. You have to know when they’re holding back, when they’re upset and not showing it, and when their confidence is based on facts vs. when it’s based on emotions.
This can help you become a better employee, too, but the skills will be on display every day as a boss.
It’s hard to practice these skills, though. You can’t just go to someone and say, “Pretend to not be sad at some point, but don’t tell me, and let me see if I can figure out if you’re sad or not.”
What you can do is play poker for real money. Yes, that seems like a jump, but poker is a game of finding information on your opponent and using that against them. This requires mastering the art of reading people. In fact, these kinds of activities are the root of a discipline called “emotional intelligence,” which trains you to be more in touch with emotions, both your own and others.
Therefore, every time you size up the competition at the table, you’re giving yourself practice at reading emotional cues. Apply this same discipline at work (maybe without looking at everyone as competition from whom you are trying to take money) and you will find that you can tell when your employees are experiencing different emotional states.
How you act on that information is up to you (and hopefully varies from a normal poker game). It may be that your employees’ emotional states have nothing to do with you or work, but if you can tell they are going through something, then you are in a better position to help.
Become a Better Boss or Employee: Don’t Tilt
When you get into any competitive poker environment and master the basics of strategy and probabilities, the best piece of advice I can give you is don’t tilt.
If you’re not familiar with concepts like tilting, tilting is when your emotions are getting away from you. More importantly, don’t let your emotions control you.
I’ve seen otherwise wonderful bosses who cannot keep it together when the stress gets too much, when the deadlines mount or when their personal lives threaten to overwhelm them. Similarly, I’ve seen promising and even senior employees crush their careers because they can’t control their anger or just lose it once in a tough spot.
You can’t tilt if you are a senior executive, a custodian, a cashier, or a writer. It’s rarely ever helpful to lose your stuff at home or on the job. It will get results, but they’re not going to be the results you want.
This is also true at a poker table. Imagine that you’re trying to decide if you’re all in. If you’re wrong, you’re out of the tournament. There’s big money on the line. You can’t tilt there either.
Therefore, the discipline and practice you put into not losing it on the poker table can teach you how to sense when you’re feeling emotions and how not to give into them.
Become a Better Employee: Learn Grit
Studies show that the most important quality for success in life is grit, that little extra bit that keeps someone from quitting and keeps them carrying on even when they so desperately want to quit.
You can’t learn grit from a book. You build it over time by being in situations where you have to use it. The more you show grit, the easier it is to use it the next time. While life can certainly throw a lot of situations at you where grit is going to come in handy, it’s kind of nice to be able to build your grit in a place where the stakes aren’t quite so real.
Enter poker. Sure, if you’re staring down a huge stack of chips worth a lot of money, it’s going to feel like the stakes are pretty real, but for the most part, the poker table’s not quite so life and death as life and death. Instead, as you play poker, you will encounter a lot of times where the only thing that stands between you and a bad night is your ability to keep playing.
Next time, when your job, a tilting employer, a nasty customer, etc. tries to hit you in the face, you can remember how it felt to keep on going at the table and use that.
Become a Better Employee: Process Data Better
Most jobs, especially in this day and age, are about absorbing and processing a lot of data. This is true if you’re a cashier learning a computer system, an analyst trying to make predictions about the market, or an accountant trying to balance a budget.
The more you start to play poker, you realize that it, too, is an exercise in collecting as much data as possible, then acting on that information as quickly as possible. The more poker you play, the more you start to think about your tendencies, what your opponent is doing, how they’re acting, the probability of winning with your hand, etc. That’s data and it’s all in your head instead of a computer.
Even worse, you have only a few seconds to process it and make a decision that could cost you hundreds (or more) dollars. If you can get good at it, imagine how much easier it will be to operate a machine at work or use a spreadsheet.
Become a Better Employee or Boss: Learn About Risk
The general thesis here is that poker teaches a lot about life. As you perform at the poker table, you start to build our own patterns and start unveiling things that perhaps you didn’t realize.
Now, there will always be people who are diabolic risk-takers at the poker table who wouldn’t risk a spare penny outside of the game. However, most people’s poker persona matches their non-poker persona.
If you’re not, then would you rather be? There’s definitely no reason to be ashamed for playing tight, but you should know if you like risks or not and, if you don’t, then stop taking them.
On the other hand, if you’re a daredevil at the table, but find yourself stuck at your job, maybe you need to take more risks. You’re clearly okay with them, so figure out why you feel powerful at the table and make your life more like that.
Who knows? If you’re willing to go all in when you know you have nothing because it seems like the right thing to do, maybe you’re ready to start your own business or at least look for something else out there.
At the end of the day, I’m not saying that poker will make you the best boss, employee, etc. On the other hand, it’s not going to hurt either.
Fundamentally, bringing your A-game to the poker table every time you play a hand uses many of the same skills that you need to be successful every day: grit, determination, focus, data analysis, reading people. Therefore, as you play poker, see if you don’t start to notice that you naturally do better at other pursuits.
Assess if you have greater emotional control or clarity in decision making. Both of those could come from poker.
More importantly, find out if your poker risk and your life risk are in sync. If not, maybe it’s time to consider a change for the better.