Shooting Pool …


Playing PoolI love to play pool, billiards, eight-ball, rotation, and any other game that involves green felt surfaces and shiny balls rolling around …

When not working on our or someone else’s farm or in school, my adolescent years were spent at Parker’s Pool Hall.   I loved this dark, dingy, dank, and definitely not-socially-acceptable place.  This was where I could try to carefully cultivate an air of mystery and danger in what was otherwise a pretty typical rural Mid-West upbringing.

While spending time in “that damned pool hall”, as my mother called it, I also played a lot of pool.  Let me emphasize the phrase “a lot”.  I played for hours every time I was able to escape my mundane existence and enter that dark and vaguely ominous place which smelled of cigarettes and stale bodies.  If you were raised at a certain time in American history, you will know that when I say I spent many Saturday Nights just playing pool until closing time, that I was devoting real quality social time to this.

These days, I play online pool almost as much, usually wreathed in a misty cloud of nostalgia while doing so, but it’s not the same.  My favorite game is Rotation, where you have to sink fifteen balls in numerical order using an unnumbered cue ball.  The first person to score 60 points (based on adding point value of each ball) wins.  A nice bonus is that when you hit the next ball in order first, any other ball you sink also counts:)

It strikes me that leadership is sort of like playing rotation pool …

You have to focus on the immediate goal …

If you do not pay close attention to the ball you need to sink, you may not hit it right and it will not go where you planned for it to go. 

Focus is key in most areas of life, including leadership.  The most powerful conversation you can have with another is when you are focused on them and the conversation, while eliminating distractions and internal agendas.  The ability to prioritze, which is based on focusing and evaluating each option for action, is also critical for individual and organizational success.

Focus on the business at hand and make sure you clearly and completely understand what you are about …

You have to also look at the whole table and think about the next shot …

Two things can happen if you are not paying attention to the layout of the entire table when you shoot:  1)  You may inadvertently “scratch” or sink your cue ball because you did not consider where it would go after hitting the target ball, or 2) you wind up in a poor or even untenable position for the next shot. 

No shot is made in isolation.  When you shoot one ball, you have to be very aware of both how your action will affect the final position of other balls on the table, and where the next ball you need to sink is currently on the table.  At the end of each shot, your goal should be to be in good position to sink that next ball.

When your current shot places your cue ball in a place where you cannot hit the next ball, you have “snookered” yourself … yes, it is every bit as humiliating as it sounds.

Always put yourself in position for what is needed next …

Sinking balls matters, but so does score …

I have sometimes been surprised to find that I have won a game based on score, while my mind is still planning one or two shots ahead.  Making the goal always resets the game and losing track of how close you are can be unsettling.

Sometimes we get all wrapped up in our tactical plans and specific actions, while losing track of the overall goal.  The danger here is that you win without being ready to win … at best, you may waste some energy and momentum, but at worst you may actually put yourself in a worse position because you gained some goal without being ready to do so.

Winning when you are not prepared to win can be as potentially dangerous as losing when you are unprepared …

Sometimes you sink the wrong ball and sometimes you scratch …

A scratch is when the cue ball goes into a pocket.  Sometimes I lose track of which number is up next and shoot the wrong ball.  I blame the excitement and action of the game.

Sometimes you aim at the wrong goal or just make a wrong decision.  This tendency is greater when activity iand intensity is high … or when you get all excited and rush ahead without taking time to think about what you are doing.

Stuff happens … you have some options when things do not work:   1)  You can analyze and learn from the experience to reduce or eliminate the possibility that it will recur, 2) You can simply smile, laugh a bit at yourself, and let it go, or 3) you can obsess about your failure and curse the fates, the wind, or whoever is closest.  Guess which option works best?  

Do not enjoy adversity, but do not let it ruin everything either …

When you pull off a particularly difficult or challenging shot, you feel great …

Nothing like the feeling of excelling at something, is there?  I have made four-ball combination shots where things have to be just perfectly aligned at the right angles for every ball to do exactly what it should to make the shot work.  The sense of accomplishment and confidence when you pull off something technically complex is exhilerating.

How do you celebrate your “combination shots”?  How do you acknowledge all those who helped things work in perfect alignment to make the end result happen?

At the end of the game, you have the choice to rack the balls and start over …

Well, what can we say here?   “Tomorrow is another day” (a little trite, but very true) or “Don’t rest on your laurels” (cautionary and also true) for those who tend to want to quit while they are ahead, before they really are.  

If you consider your leadership journey as a playable game, which you can consistently improve at playing and winning, you already know that the game goes on … just don’t treat the people who you play with as disposable chips or unfeeling game tiles (or colored balls to whack at, either).  

Starting over is the gift we give ourselves, our coworker, and our organizations …

Well, maybe I’m just being nostalgic and letting this pool analogy get away from me.  Two questions for you today:

1)  Does this analogy/memoir make any sense to you and your leadership journey?

2)  What games or activities from your own past provide you with lessons for today?

Remembering the ambiance of a dingy, dank, and dirty memory in the Heartland …

John

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