Leadership: Texas Hold'Em Style - by Harvey & Foster - A Leading Questions review

There are many different kinds of leadership books in the marketplace. The most Pokerleadership cover prevalent kind are books written by business school academics and biographies of leaders. Each has their value, but for practicality, the majority do not translate well into practice. Then there are books that are written by practitioners. This is what I found when I came across Andrew J. Harvey and Raymond E. Foster's Leadership: Texas Hold'em Style (www.pokerleadership.com).

I've played poker a few times. I own a copy of The Cincinnati Kid. I've watched some expert players play. None of this qualifies me as an expert on poker. However, I do find it a fascinating game. So, when I saw that two former law enforcement officers had written a book on leadership from the perspective of poker, I was definitely intrigued.

The authors quote David Moschella near the beginning of the book.

Industry executives and analysts often mistakenly talk about strategy as if it were some kind of chess match. But in chess, you have just two opponents; each with identical resources, and with luck playing a minimal role. The real world is much more like a poker game, with multiple players trying to make the best of whatever hand fortune has dealt them. ..."

He is correct that leadership is like a poker game where the leader has to have the situational awareness to understand what is happening, and know how to respond so as to not squander his or her advantage.

Leadership Texas Hold'em Style is organized around 52 distinct leadership topics, each represented by one card in a standard card deck. The chapters are brief and are built around stories and illustrations of the principles described. This is not a book of theoretical reflection, though there is a lot of theory presented. Instead, it is a book where theories are described in a simple, clear manner.

Here's a sample of quotes where they use the metaphor of poker to explain aspects of leadership.

The poker table changes constantly. If you played every hand exactly the same, you are assured of losing. Your cards change, your bank change and even the people at the table can change. Indeed, not only is every hand different, every game is different. Each table you sit at is composed of players with different skills, different cards and different banks. Like a good leader, the poker player continually adapts to his or her environment and the situation.

...

Poker is fair because fairness is not about outcome, it is about process. Sometimes in poker you get a poor hand, but the process is fair; the cards are shuffled and dealt. Everyone understands the rules and has an equal chance of receiving cards that make a good hand. Poker is fair because everyone understands the rules, they have similar expectations and the rules are applied to all. If you think of fairness as an outcome, then something could only be fair from a particular point of view. In other words, what is fair to you would not necessarily be fair to others. However, if you look at fairness as a process, it becomes clear when something is fair or unfair. Fairness for the leader is about conformity with rules and standards, making impartial judgments based on objective information and treating people equally.

...

It is easy to see why no one would be loyal to the poker player. Between players, the mission at most tables is to defeat each other. But, not at all tables. Poker games fall into two categories - friendly and competitive.  ... The social card game is an expression of loyalty among people.

It is easy to see that poker is an ideal metaphor for the human dimension of leadership. Every leader must be able to read people, understand how they react in adverse and advantageous circumstances, and know when to fight a battle or fold.  After reading this book, I have a deeper appreciation for poker as a game, and a fresh understanding of the complex dynamics of leading.

This was brought home to me in a quote by poker champion Phil Hellmuth, Jr.

Poker is really about reading people. What happens when you bluff? What does it look like when the other guy bluffs? Does he look right, does he look left? Under what circumstances does he fold or call? Poker is about understanding human behavior and managing emotions - yours and the other guy's. That's huge in poker, and it's huge in business.

Leadership Texas Hold'em Style is an excellent introduction to leadership for the person who is not interested in leadership as an academic subject. Harvey and Foster have not dumbed down the theory to make it accessible to everyone. Instead, they illustrate leadership concepts in ways that provide a basis for team discussion and individual understanding. In particular, I recommend the book as an ideal guide to leadership for middle managers and supervisors who need help learning how to manage the human dimension of their role.

The authors have done their homework. Leadership Texas Hold'em Style fills a niche in the leadership literature field that is welcome addition for the practicing leader.