“Give Me Three Stacks of High Society.”
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There’s no co-host on shorts.
These are two-to-four-minute observations, ideas, thoughts, or rants, about the literature, philosophy, psychology, and theology of leadership.
Because listening to me talk about leadership for two to four minutes is better than reading and trying to understand yet another business book.
Gimme three stacks of high society.
From the game of poker, leaders learn that what matters less than the risk they’re taking to play the game in the first place, is the table at which they’ve decided to sit down.
Many leaders don’t realize or aren’t curious enough to find out, the rules of the poker game they’re playing (adulthood, parenting, building a business, going to a school, leading other people, etc.) before they put their chips down and commence to playing.
Leaders oftentimes make the faulty assumption that if they just work a little harder at a losing table, eventually they’ll somehow pull out a win.
Instead of picking up what chips they have, closing the game out, and moving to another table where the odds are stacked a little more in their favor.
There is a non-obvious illustration of this behavior process from the world of independent comic books.
The independent creator and Canadian provocateur—from before being a provocateur was cool, outre, and very, very social media-driven— is a guy named Dave Sim.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario and still living there in the corner of a house that time—and most post-modern, film-driven comic book fans—have forgotten, Sim was the creator and writer of a character designed at first to be a parody of Conan the Barbarian that gradually—over a twenty-five-year period, became something far, far more.
Cerebus the Aardvark was the fullest representation of an independent comic book in history, fully owned by the creator—no Marvel meddling, DC fangirl crushing, or television and movie producers sniffing around here—and his book represented an attempt by an artist to tell a story about a character that actually reflected the creator’s life, opinions, and ideas.
All in black and white.
All around 32 pages a book.
All for the low, low price of $2.95 American.
And all at a time when the Marvel Comics era was about to wrap up in fire and variant covers due to gluttony and greed, and the DC Comics era was about to immolate itself on the horns of Diamond Distribution and the rising internet.
Sim’s most famous collection—or phone book—of stories featured the unintentional gambles and misadventures of the Aardvark Cerebus as he wound his way through the wilds of being Prime Minister in the city-state of Iest, in one of the greatest send-ups of our post-Cold War, political era, the appropriately named, High Society.
Much like the Eagles intoned in Hotel California, Cerebus begins his poker journey through the wilds of modern politics by checking into the Regency Hotel, a place driven by classicism, naked ambition, and greed, and subsequently falls into the machinations of a Groucho Marx look-a-like named Lord Julius.
You heard that correctly.
Along the way, Cerebus vainly attempts to get out of the hotel, away from Lord Julius, and as far away from high society as he can get, but while he can check out anytime he likes, he can never leave.
The 512-page graphic novel ends as you would suspect; not with Cerebus being revealed as a barely literate barbarian, barely able to hold it together; but instead, he is revealed as a competent—yet deplorable in decorum—leader in a world of incompetents, malcontents, manipulators, and nincompoops that have lost the narrative of why they’re even involved in politics and political machinations in the first place.
And then, somehow, after all of that Cerebus becomes the Pope.
Talk about moving onto a different poker table.
Sim the man and creator could write cleanly and introspectively about successfully manipulating the world of high politics, but in the low resolution, low politics world of the comic book industry, Sim rose to great heights and fell to ignoble lows in the 1990s.
Once lauded by the Comics Journal and other trade publications, Sim became persona non grata, which continues to this day, because of accusations of misogyny, daring to distribute his own comic books directly to consumers, and for daring to buck the Marvel/DC axis by standing up for Creator’s Rights.
It turns out that cancel culture didn’t just start yesterday on Twitter.
Leaders can be outrageous rebels, placid conformists, or independent loners and there are pluses and minuses to each position.
Leaders can gamble everything they have on one idea, approach, goal, vision, or product.
Leaders can decide they don’t like the atmosphere at the table they have decided to sit at and move on to another table with better cards.
But, fundamentally, just as Cerebus the character and Sim the man demonstrated both in real life and in beautiful black and white inked interiors, they have to decide—intentionally—what game they are willing to play.
As a woman named Marla once trenchantly observed about politics games in the wastes of Baltimore, “The game is rigged; you cannot lose if you do not play.”
But you won’t have a chance—even a slim one—to win either with the limited stack of high society you’ve already borrowed from the house.
Leaders, choose your games—and your tables—wisely.