By James Houran, Ph.D. and Keith Kefgen
As a global advisory firm, we constantly meet new and interesting professionals. Occasionally some individuals offer innovative perspectives or hold such unique positions that we are keen to hear their insights and profile their experiences in human interest stories – that is, case studies that speak to broad issues of development, leadership or culture-building. To this end, we are eager to introduce Christina Lindley as one of the most interesting people we met this year. Google her name and a story unfolds about this young, successful business woman who has apparently learned the secret for gaming the system – that is, how to overcome challenges that would likely stifle others. Don’t be fooled by her outward appeal as you gaze at her professional photos or consider her Hollywood status. She largely left all that behind to become a professional poker player. Yes, you read that correctly.
She recently talked with us about the on-going process of self-discovery and exploration that motivated her seemingly erratic career path. Before this conversation she completed our proprietary psychometric assessment called 20|20 Skills™ to gauge her people, execution and cognitive skills. It was interesting that Christina profiled as a “facilitator” – someone with strong people skills and an ability to facilitate teamwork in achieving big-picture outcomes. That description may sound counterintuitive to the profile of a professional poker player, where analytical thinking and individuality might seem more important. But in poker, like most other business activities, it is about reading people and motivating them to act in predictable ways. This is what she had to say:
What skills do you have that you credit for your success in tournament poker… and how did you discover these skills? Growing up, my dad always had some new job so we would always be moving. I attended five high schools and constantly had to throw myself into whatever was going on at the time, no matter how different it was. Whether cheerleading in 9th grade, cross country having never really ran long distances, or drama never having acted, I adapted and learned new skill sets quickly and with ease out of necessity. I was always curious about why people did what they do. As a kid, I would get in trouble for constantly asking authority figures why they wanted me to do something. I would always need reasons, as logically breaking things down came naturally. The skills I credit to being successful in most elements of my life including poker are adaptability, shape-shifting, people reading, open mindedness, being humble, having a thirst for knowledge and adventure, my competitive spirit and ability to research and study something relentlessly until I have mastered it.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give women or any career-minded individuals who are interested in identifying their competencies and passions? I would say to read… read a lot of nonfiction. Talk to people who are the best in fields that interest you. Travel and experiment with different cultures. Define what scares you, and do that. Ghost people professionally, following them around asking a million questions as much as they will allow without driving them nuts. Take tons of personality tests, no matter how stupid they are. What kind of cocktail would you be if you were a cocktail, and so forth. Find out as much about yourself as you possibly can. Know what your strengths and weaknesses are. Think of your strengths as weaknesses and see how they might be improved or altered based on what situation you are in. Think of your weaknesses as strengths and see how you can make them work for you rather than against you.
Describe your experiences, if any, with the “glass ceiling” in the casino-gaming world. To me, the glass ceiling in poker is definitely there. I love poker, and it can definitely make you rich. For me personally, and what I want to achieve, I have discovered that I need to branch out into business to accomplish the level of success I pictured in the sense that I want to create and build something. I want to point to something and say, see that insanely successful international boutique vertical in this specific element, I was a huge creative part of that. I am madly in love with poker, and it will always be one of my major sources of income. As I grow, I understand that it will be a part of my life, not my entire life professionally speaking.
What skills, attitudes or knowledge areas are critical for one’s career success in the casino-gaming world? I have found that having as much knowledge as possible about local cultures of the town you are in, gambling, sports, hierarchy, who does what, in addition to maintaining a sense of networking and community pride to be vital aspects of success in the casino gaming world.
What unspoken challenges exist for those people wanting a career in the gaming industry, i.e., what should these people expect or plan for? Not to be cliché, but expect the unexpected. Plan on a 24-hour lifestyle. No sleep for the wicked. Gaming is never closed. There is no such thing as a “day off”, but there’s a very similar “work hard, play hard” mentality shared amongst most people in the casino gaming industry, both male and female. When opportunity knocks, you open the door.
To date, what professional accomplishment are you most proud of in your career? That’s a tough question. Which career? I have done so many different things it is hard to pinpoint specifics. If I were to list one in each category I guess I would say…. In Acting, it was being a series regular for years on a show called “Wild Nʼ Out with Nick Cannon” for MTV. It was a sketch improv comedy show, which allowed me to think on my toes and greatly outside the box as there is no room for anything but being quick witted and fun in improv. In modeling, I would say it was the Maxim photoshoot and feature I did for their magazine. I had grown up looking at the actresses and models featured on the covers and to be amongst them was a really cool experience. In poker, it would most definitely be the final table I made in Paris for the World Poker Tour. It was an internationally televised final table, and that year they had chosen to feature me in a storyline as “Ones to Watch”, so I was really happy to repay their confidence in me in a great result of a live final table and six figure score that season.
How has tournament poker playing shaped how you think and behave in your personal life? I have learned to be the best version of myself I can. I am always working on improving my health and my mind to better my life as a whole and my personal game in poker. I have learned there is always another tournament. Meaning if things don’t work out, the trying was not a lost cause. The lesson was learned and is immediately applied to the next venture. I have learned to easily let go when disappointed and to cherish the successes I see on a daily basis no matter how small they are. I have learned that nothing is impossible. If I want something, I set my mind to it, bust my ass, and make it happen no matter what temporary obstacles stand in the way. I’ve learned to view any obstacle as temporary until I figure out how to make it move, get around it, get under it, or whatever it takes.
Talk to me about risk and the role it has played in your career and life in general. Risk is my co-pilot. Adventure and courage are in the back seat cheering us on. I recently read a fascinating book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear that helped me think about these things in a unique way. I have always been good friends with Risk. My natural curiosity and adventurous spirit drive me to constantly explore. Risk is just a precursor to great experience and reward as far as I am concerned. Every risk has taught me more than anything in my life. With each new experience, I change, I grow, and then he is always there pushing me to do more, experience more, learn more and be more.
Maybe from these brief snippets you can understand why we found Christina such a fascinating personality. In fact, many themes she discussed such as competitiveness, drive, fear, risk, resilience, tolerance of ambiguity, innovation, self-improvement and restlessness were motivations and lessons echoed independently by many of the top hospitality leaders we interviewed and studied for our book, Loneliness of Leadership.
Coming full circle, Christina’s 20|20 Skills™ psychometric results similarly highlighted traits like Self-Efficacy, Creativity, Ethical Awareness (organization and process-orientation) and Team-Building. These collectively underscore motivations and a mind-set that help to explain her success in tournament poker, as well as her decision-making approach throughout all aspects of life. “Facilitator” therefore seems an apropos overall profile to describe her. Of course it also hints that she perceives herself and her career as merely works in progress. In this sense Christina hasn’t gamed the system – like most entrepreneurs we have met she is working diligently to understand and find her place in it.