Her Business Helps Leaders Use Lessons From The Poker Table To Raise Their Game

Ellen Leikind learned to play poker when she was growing up. While she and her mom were cooking dinner after school, they played Texas Hold ‘Em and Backgammon. “My mom was an awful cook, and so was I,” recalls the native New York City resident.

Years later, as a senior marketing executive who worked at Pfizer and L’Oreal, Leikind perked up when she noticed poker was rivaling golf as a type of corporate networking. While playing recreational poker she noticed many common threads between the strategies used in poker and business negotiation. “I started seeing how some of the things that happened to me at the poker table happened in business,” she says.

In 2006, after taking a one-year hiatus from corporate life, she tapped what she learned in childhood and founded PokerDivas, where she uses the principles of poker to teach leadership and negotiation skills. The two-person company, which generates revenue in the mid-six figures, trains team members at companies such as Allure, BMO, Chevron, Elizabeth Arden, KPMG, O, Marie Claire, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Pfizer, and many financial services firms on how to become more fearless in their careers

To bring the lessons to life, Leikind holds mock tournaments, which often help participants to identify areas for professional growth. “The more frequently and aggressively you’re betting, the more comfortable you are with risk-taking,” she says.

Leikind teaches that to accomplish business goals, you need to “have the patience to wait for the right hands, read other people and not be afraid of losing your money,” she says.

The programs initially targeted women but now are co-ed, in response to demand. She has found that frequently, women are more patient and better at reading people, and men are more aggressive with their chips and more comfortable with risk, though there are many exceptions. “You need all four of those things to be good in business as you do in poker,” she says.

Leikind is also the author of PokerWoman: How to Win at Love, Life, and Business using the Principles of Poker. She also runs an online networking poker club, a course called “How to Negotiate for Yourself,” and a continuing legal education program called “How to Be A Better Negotiator Using Poker Strategy.” As a speaker, she covers topics such as taking control of your image at the conference table, bringing the inclusivity of the poker table to corporate culture and handling a bully in the board room.

She holds an MBA in marketing from Fordham University and a certificate from Cornell University in Diversity and Inclusion.

Although Leikind coaches corporate employees, she finds the lessons from poker are just as relevant for the self-employed. “They are all about confidence in risk,” she says. “Are you playing to win or to avoid losing?”

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