Many years ago, extended-family visits—especially on my Mom’s side—featured one staple: multiple games of Rook*. It did not matter whether it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, or some other get-together, if Dad and my uncles were under the same roof for more than a few minutes, the cards, paper, and pen were brought out for as many games as they could play. (Rook can be played with 2-6 players. We always played with four players and it is that configuration that informs this post.)
Being young, I was relegated to watching. But, as soon as they deemed me old enough I was allowed to participate. I may not be tournament-good, but I’m family-good.
I have not played Rook in a number of years, but for many it remains a vacation and family gathering staple. As I think about how Rook is played—and how to win games—these six leadership thoughts come to mind.
1. You have to know your strong suit.
A deck of Rook cards has four colors: red, yellow, green, and black. Players need to be able to recognize “good hands.” In Rook, the dominant (or “trump”) color can change with every new hand. The more cards of a single color (“suit”) a player has after the deal, the more turns (“tricks”) can potentially be taken on each hand. Scoring is totaled by the number of point cards taken over the course of the hand. Knowing the strong suit lets a player know whether to bid and how high, whether not to bid, whether it’s a “helping hand” to help the partner make a bid, or a “setting hand” to keep the other player-pair from making their bid.
When leading a church or ministry knowing your strong suit—your strengths—is invaluable. Learning to lead in light of our strengths (or giftedness) is imperative to good leadership. Leading from our gifts acknowledges the wisdom of God in giving them and helps us be more effective in how we lead.
2. You need to know your weakest suit.
Because there are four colors and four players, periodically a player will be dealt a hand with zero or few cards of a particular color. If a hand has two or three low-number, no-point green cards and random low numbers of red, yellow, and black, the player should recognize these weak suits. It does not necessarily mean that the player should not bid nor that the hand cannot be won. But it takes a different strategy to win when playing with a weak hand.
Leaders should always recognize their weaknesses. In some cases it is necessary to strengthen weaknesses, but in most cases I believe the best strategy is to focus on our strengths and assemble a team (or staff) that is strong where we are weak. Recognizing our weaknesses helps us not to overshoot our strategic aim, or to adopt different strategies when needed.
3. You have to depend on your partner.
Rook is played with player-pairs. Two teams play against one another to reach 300 points (500 in our family). While communicating with one’s partner is not allowed, each player needs to have confidence their partner knows how to play the game, that they understand the strategy needed to win a particular hand. Few things are more frustrating in Rook than a partner who loses points needlessly because trump cards were still out, or holds potential hand-taking cards until it is too late to take a hand.
In most leadership scenarios, leaders have to be able to depend on other team members and other staff members. Proverbs 25:19 says, “Trusting an unreliable person in a difficult time is like a rotten tooth or a faltering foot.” As much as it lies within you, recruit people for your team who are reliable and whose strengths compensate for your weaknesses.
4. You need to know the score.
As the game progresses, the score can dictate strategy. A team nearing 500 may allow their far-trailing opponents to get the bid to as not to “go set” (a penalty for getting the bid but not making the necessary points). Conversely, a trailing team may bid higher than warranted to maintain control of their own destiny in the game.
Whatever your particular strategy in your church or organization, metrics are important. While some church leaders focus inordinately on nickels and noses, we should regularly evaluate what kind of fruit our efforts are bearing. To evaluate effectively, we need to know the score.
5. You need to know when a weak hand can be strong.
When playing, the folks in my family were always alert to recognize a “helping hand,” which was a hand not strong enough to take the bid, but not useless, either. A good helping hand can help a partner win every trick. (The same hand of cards was sometimes called a “setting hand” if the other team got the bid but couldn’t make it; the hand too weak to take the bid was strong enough to set the other team.)
In leadership, we need to recognize when skills or circumstances that look weak can be turned into strengths. Not that we fret over turning our weaknesses into strengths, but using what appears to be weakness for strength instead. Is there a person on the team who appears to be a weak link? Find what he or she is good at and plug them in there.
6. You need to know when to take a risk.
While there are variations on this particular tactic, our family games allowed a player to bid “Shoot the Moon,” automatically winning the bid and, if winning the hand, adding 500 points to their total. But, Shooting the Moon entails risk: if you don’t win all the possible points in the hand your team goes set by 500 points.
All leadership includes risk as it is impossible to know with absolute certainty the results of a plan before it is implemented. We can argue over whether walking in faith is taking a risk, but practically speaking every implementation of change in tactics, strategy, funding, and many more areas entails risk. If you are tempted to “Shoot the Moon” of leadership, make sure you understand the potential losses as well as gains.
*Researching for this article, I found Rook used to be called missionary poker. Here’s why. Parker Bros introduced the game specifically for religious people who “considered the face cards in a regular deck inappropriate because of their association with gambling and cartomancy” (Wiki). Our family played a mostly standard game using the 1 card, but with 2s, 3s, and 4s omitted.