Know When to Hold’em

Cowboy With Poker Face

There’s an old Kenny Rogers song (yes, I know I’m dating myself) that says, “You’ve got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run . . .” All in all, pretty good leadership advice. The only problem is, the song neglects to identify the how. How do you know when it’s time to hold and when it’s time to fold? As you assess the hand that you’ve been dealt, and try to strategize your way to ultimate success, here are a few tips for your consideration.

When to hold’em?

When it is a matter of values, integrity or primary strategic intent, hold fast. If you lose your integrity, you’re sunk as a leader. If you’re flexible on your values when times get tough, your integrity takes a hit. Integrity and values take a long time to establish and a short time to lose. Regardless of the challenges/opportunities presented by others sitting around the table, always hold on to these two. By primary strategic intent I mean the what, not the how. Stay true to your mission, your vision, your ultimate goals. There may be 101 ways to fulfill that mission, but if you lose sight of where you’re going, you’ll probably be disappointed in where you end up.

When to run?

If you’re clear on when to hold’em, then knowing when to run is pretty easy . . . in theory. If it diminishes your integrity, your values, or your strategic intent, it’s time to run. The challenge comes in the fact that some people are pretty good at dressing up a pig. They’ll have all kinds of excuses and “yes, buts.” They’ll tell you to be realistic, to consider the circumstances, that the potential gain is worth it. Your gut will often be telling you to run long before your head does. Listen to it.

When to fold’em or walk away?

Decisions to fold’em tend to be about the how. This path is not going to pan out, so you stop investing in it and find another way forward. It’s not giving up on your goal, it’s just recognizing when you need to find an alternate route. Walking away, on the other hand, signifies that any ultimate gain is not worth the investment it would take. Both are reasonable actions that allow you to have the resources and energy to stand strong on your “hold’em” projects.

Which brings me to one final point . . . based on this “Gambler” approach to leadership, three-quarters of the time you’re not going to pursue the hand you’re dealt. There will be lots of “opportunities” that others will encourage you to take that you should probably pass on, not necessarily because they are bad, they just aren’t the winning hand for you or your organization.

It’s all a matter of knowing when to hold’em.

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