Going All In

In Leadership by Stephen Zakur0 Comments

allinMy grandfather was a professional card player after World War One. He spent a number of years wandering the country trying to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life. He ended up working in the Veteran’s Administration and for the American Legion for decades. His commitment and service to those who served was a source of pride for him.

Grandpa was in his forties before he got married and by the time I came along he was quite old. There are stories that circulated about his wins and losses though I never heard them from him directly. My knowledge of that period of his life are limited to the Coco-Cola Stock story and the small diamond, won in a card game, that sits in my safe.

While he didn’t pass along any of his skill at cards he did pass along some wisdom about life. A more educated man might have summed it up as “seize the day”. When I got to the point in my life where I didn’t know where I was going he told me to quit my job and hit the road. His instruction was to find a passion and dedicate myself to it. In today’s parlance, to go “All in”.

His advice (and $1,000 cash) helped me greatly in those early days. I eventually found my passion and with the help of a wonderful spouse and good friends I’m proud of what lays behind me and optimistic of what’s ahead. More than anything my journey has taught me to be open to change, to explore opportunities, determine what fits and then to chose and pursue the selected path with vigor.

Changes in business, society, technology feed each other today like never before and just when you think it might plateau for a spell, it’s off like a jack rabbit again. The cycles are shorter. Volatility is higher. The penalty for hesitating, brutal.

Faced with such an environment of monumental ambiguity it’s only natural to pause to consider options, read the faces of the players, calculate the odds. But placing bets on products or market segments tentatively is a sure tell, to our clients, employees and competitors, that we don’t believe in our own ability to win the hand. I’ve seen this play out. I’m sure you’ve seen it too.

As leaders it’s wise to keep cards close the chest and play smart. But remember, everyone is watching. Employees are watching for signals about how committed they should be to a new course. Clients are watching to see if the product you’re pitching is actually going somewhere or they should be looking elsewhere for the sure thing. And competitors, well, they’re the ones shuffling their chips behind dark glasses waiting for you to tip your hand.

As Leaders we need to be “all in” more often than we think; more often than we are. We need to act with vigor and tenacity in the hunt for new markets, the alignment of resources and execution against opportunity. Everyone is watching and we need them to believe that we believe.


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