Playing the Cards You’re Dealt

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

Part 4 in a Series on Essentials of Modern Leadership

I’m not the world’s most avid card player, but I enjoy a few games every now and then. Because of the limitless variability, card games give my noggin a good workout, and I like that. Though luck plays a role, winning consistently requires an aptitude for assessing randomly distributed sets of cards and strategizing accordingly. Do it right, and even when the cards you receive aren’t ideal, a win is possible. It’s up to you, though, to determine the best possible actions when playing the cards you’re dealt.

2019.06.17.0-CTPE-Playing the Cards Youre Dealt Inline2

You Usually Can’t Control What Cards You’ll Get, Just How They’re Played

Much like when cards are dealt on game night, new managers (or experienced managers in new settings) won’t know where they stand until they appraise the employees and policies they have inherited.

As much as you’d like to handpick personnel to match your strategic vision, it generally isn’t a luxury that new managers are afforded, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Some factors aren’t in your control during the early stages of a managerial assignment, but don’t let that negate opportunities for valuable experience and maturation. Assess your hand. Maybe you’ll find personnel who aren’t a good fit and are floundering in a functional process. Or maybe you’ll find capable personnel struggling in a haphazard system.

It’s your job to continually evaluate the strengths of your staff and structure and align people and policies for success.

By no means am I implying this is an easy task. There will be periods of underperformance, miscommunication, and poor morale – regardless of how long you’ve been a manager or where you are. As a leader, though, it’s up to you to clear those hurdles.

Dealing with Difficulties Is Part of the Job

Resilience and flexibility are necessary qualities for managers, especially when those managers are new to the job and especially if they want to get the job done well. The trick is to stay the course and remain confident, even when confronting the unknown.

In an inspiring lecture given not long before his death, computer science professor Randy Pausch said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Pausch, who had pancreatic cancer, was communicating how important it is to make the most of a given situation.

If you’ve been entrusted recently with a position of leadership, rely on your character and skills to move from the uncertainty of inherited circumstances toward a secure workplace that is fulfilling its potential. Be sure to make honing your people-management skills part of the process.

A manager having a serious conversation with her team.

USF Can Help You Make the Most of Your Hand

To learn more about USF’s dedication to helping professionals and businesses fulfill their potentials, Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education. Visit the CTPE website or contact us.Learn More

Mark Koulianos is director of USF’s Office of Corporate Training and Professional Education and a 20-plus-year veteran of the corporate world. Read Koulianos’ full bio.