7 Leadership Lessons from “The Gambler”

By July 23, 2019Leadership

Kenny Rogers made a song famous a quite a number of years ago called The Gambler. Perhaps you remember it.

To my knowledge I’ve never really gambled in my life. I’m not even a very good card player, but the song is easy to get stuck in your head. Beyond a catchy tune, the song tells a story of a young man learning as he watched a seasoned gambler.

While not endorsing becoming a professional gambler, I do endorse learning from those who have learned from experience.

Every time I hear the song I think there are a few really good leadership lessons in it. Some of these I’ve learned by experience – the hard, but valuable kind of lessons.

Here are 7 leadership lessons from the Gambler:

You got to know when to hold ’em

There are sometimes in leadership when you know you’re right, even when everyone else thinks you’re wrong. In those times, follow your heart, your gut, and the Holy Spirit of God. And, remember, God has not given us a spirit of fear.

Know when to fold ’em

You can’t win every battle. This is certainly one I’ve learned the hard way. Sometimes you are better to forfeit your right to control a minor issue so you retain your right to control a major issue. Don’t lose your leadership credibility over an issue of little lasting consequence.

Know when to walk away

There are better people on the team than me to make certain decisions. I have had numerous situations where I was asked to make the final call, but I knew little about the subject. I have often “walked away”, giving over the decision to others on the team. This doesn’t mean I’m void of responsibility, but I believe in my team enough to trust them with authority.

Know when to run

There are times to run away from something and times to run to something. When it comes to issues, such as moral improprieties, get away from them as fast as you can. Avoid the appearance of evil. On issues where you know God has clearly called you to something, run to it fast, by faith, regardless of your fears or reservations.

You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table

A good example in church leadership for this one is planning for a service. You do the best you can to plan for every Sunday – even on a holiday weekend. Give it everything you’ve got. Then don’t worry when you get there if the crowd is less than expected. Deliver everything you planned to deliver if the crowd was twice or four times the size.

There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done

There is a time to evaluate. You should always ask what you could have done better. Never settle on a plateau, but keep getting better. The gambler always did. (I suspect he practiced his poker face in front of a mirror.)

Knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep

Leadership includes a lot of balance – and a lot of rhythm. You have to discern good from bad and better from best. You have to choose the right leader for the right position. You have to judge timing for change and know when to spur momentum. It’s often the weighing of equally appealing options. It can often seem “every hands a winner and every hands a loser”.

It’s been several years since I first shared these thoughts. I’ve edited them some and hopefully made them stronger. One comment to the post mentions the idea of a poker face not being necessarily a good leadership trait. And I agree and disagree to some extent. Certainly authenticity is necessary in good leadership. There were times in business where I wish I had shared struggles more with people who worked for us. At the same time, the leader has to be able to display calm under pressure. When the leader panics – so panics the team.

Finally, this comment is for legalists in my life: Please understand I’m not endorsing gambling, just using it as a backdrop for a post on leadership. Love ya! 🙂

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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