Concentration, Poker, Effectiveness and Liz Lieu

Last Friday night, I spent an hour watching (sweating, in poker parlance) a professional poker player in a tournament at the World Series of Poker. It ended up being a lesson in how concentration works in different ways.

Liz Lieu has been a professional poker player for several years; she’s won tournaments and had top finishes at other prestigious events. (As a side note, I love watching poker – it’s one of the ultimate ways to study people).

You would expect a professional to have incredibly focused concentration; to talk little and always watch other players at the table and how the hands unfold. Not Liz. She had her I-Pod on (several people tell me that an I-Pod improves concentration; that’s never been my experience). At every chance (mostly when she was out of a hand), she was on her PDA – twittering and texting. People, mostly other pros, came over to chat and she was gracious and funny with them.

And, by the way, she was winning!

What I also noticed was when she was involved with a hand (or before she even saw her down cards) – she was intense. Behind those sunglasses (the photo, courtesy of Poker News, was taken the day I was sweating her), she wasn’t missing a thing. She saw the reactions of her competitors as they looked at their cards – what they were betting, etc. Her face gave away nothing, but she was seeing and processing everything.

What does this have to do with management?

Just as some people work better with a messy desk than a clean one, people have differences in they way they concentrate best. It’s a temptation for a manager to insist on a clean desk, or tell an employee to take out their I-pod earpiece. But it’s the wrong temptation as long as an employee is performing well.

It’s the role of a manager to foster an atmosphere where employees can flourish and perform at their best level.

Although there’s no way I could play in a poker tournament while doing all the things Liz does, what she does works best for her. Remember that when the temptation strikes with your employees.

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