“If you want to be in the GAME, you have to be at the TABLE”… the poker table that is. This is the slogan of Woman You Should Know Ellen Leikind’s innovative company POKERprimaDIVAS, which teaches women how to play poker and uses the principles acquired at the table to enhance their lives and business skills. A former marketing executive for Fortune 500 companies, Ellen quit her job over a decade ago, and has since been empowering women by helping them learn to play to win and get what they want.
Although Ellen has been playing poker since childhood, a skill she learned from her mother, she is not a professional poker player. Ellen teaches the game for its strategic and relationship building benefits, likening it to a “sport,” much in the same way golf can be used as a vehicle for socializing and networking. Seeing first-hand in corporate America how young women were being excluded from playing ball with the boys, Ellen saw poker as a way to get women into the game.
A successful marketing expert for Fortune 500 companies leaves the corporate world to teach women the power of poker – what gave you the impetus to make such a drastic lifestyle change?
EL: I had no idea that my future career would involve poker. I ventured away from the corporate world because I had an entrepreneurial desire and liked creating new concepts. I am a Consumer Products Marketer by profession and education, yet I wanted to experience something different than the traditional work I was doing.
My first foray was as a branding consultant in the infomercial business. I needed to tap into a totally new set of skills working in an entrepreneurial environment. It was then that I noticed that I was drawing on experiences from the poker table. I started to clearly see the correlation between poker and business and everyday life issues. Since people knew I was a card player, I was invited to many poker charity and networking events. The male female ratio was about 10 to 1 and I thought to myself, “where are all the women?” This is like my experience with golf all over again. It bothered me that so many women were missing out on a big networking opportunity. At that moment it clicked. Poker for professional women and that’s how POKERprimaDIVAS was born.
Why don’t we see more women around the table?
EL: Poker, much like Corporate America, is a boys club. Lack of access, intimidation, and the fear of getting involved in the unknown. Women are interested, but they weren’t being invited to the game so they stayed away.
Women were excluded from the corporate world’s golf craze. They shouldn’t be excluded from poker. And once they experience the game they know that they no longer need to wait for a formal invitation. They can just go and sit at the table on their own terms. My goal is to provide women an engaging forum to get them into the game.
Do women bring different skills to the poker table than men?
EL: Women are very good at reading people and they are more patient than men, two big requirements for being good at the poker table. They also have natural intuition, and when you couple that with intellect you have a powerful force. The area women have the toughest time with is being assertive and leading the betting at the table. Men have more bravado and are not afraid. Most women tend to play to avoid losing and men play to win. Our mantra is… play to win, not to avoid losing.
What are the benefits to women learning the game?
EL: Poker is a great way to increase confidence, get people out of their comfort zone, and strengthen negotiating and decision making skills. It teaches women how to be comfortable and reap the benefits of being assertive and making the first move. It is also a lot of fun and very exciting. One senior executive recently wrote to tell us that being pushed to bet aggressively in one of our seminars scared her to death at the time, but because of that experience when she was in a real and complex business negotiation, she was no longer afraid to push past her comfort zone.
What about the game made you think it could serve as a tool in business and life?
EL: A lot of things. Players learn to quickly optimize risk taking, recover quickly from a loss, develop disciplined money management and be confident enough to make on the spot decisions. But, most importantly, this is a game about people (as is most of what we do in life) and business. You are going to play the same hand differently against different people based on their personalities and past behavior. We give our clients a Poker Personality Profile quiz which correlates to the way you handle something at the poker table to the way you would respond in life. The results are quite telling.
In your book, PokerWoman, you talk about how poker can help you in love, life and business. What are the most important principles of poker we need to know?
EL: You’ve been playing poker your whole life even if you have never played a hand of cards. The game is really a metaphor for life and a unique vehicle in which to deliver an empowerment message for women. One of the key principles is that you cannot be afraid to make the first bet or in life the first move. In fact if you always wait for others to act before you do you will never be a big winner in anything. You also can’t get lucky if you aren’t in the hand. You want to be selective and play the hands where you have the best chance of winning, but at some point you need to take action and get into the game. The worst thing you can do is nothing.
In poker if you lose a hand you were heavily favored to win it’s called a “bad beat”. It can throw your whole game off because you “go on tilt” or get overly emotional and lose focus on moving on to the next opportunity. Deal the cards again and play another hand.
Not only do you run POKERprimaDIVAS, but you also have a marketing company. How do you balance it all?
EL: I don’t try to balance, I try to optimize and use the same principles in my marketing consultancy business that I teach in poker. Manage risk, build relationships, negotiate for my clients and help build brands. While very different businesses, technically they both have a key commonality. They are about giving women what they want and making them feel good. My marketing consultancy business specializes in developing and launching consumer products which are very female-centric. POKERprimaDIVAS empowers women to have the confidence and tools they need to identify and get what they want in any area of their life. So I guess you could say I spend most of my time helping women get what they want.
What’s the most important thing you have learned from playing and teaching the game?
EL: Don’t piddle away your chip stack. In poker the one with the most chips has the most power. If you only make small bets or always follow someone else’s lead, your stack will slowly dwindle and you begin to lose your power. You need to learn to be decisive, commit to a plan and make proactive bets so you have the chance to win the most money and keep your competitors behind you. The prizes in poker and in life go to the bold.
How do you keep the odds in your favor?
EL: Know the players, pay attention to non-verbal cues and do not be intimidated.
You have advised finalists at the World Series of Poker, what is the one thing you tell them before they take their seat?
EL: Focus and play your game. Don’t be thrown off by “trash talk”. And wear a lot of layers. Poker rooms get very cold.
Lead image: POKERprimaDIVAS founder Ellen Leikind at the First Women in Media Poker Tournament with the event’s top 4 players