Four Tips Where Golf Can Make You A Better Leader

Become a better leader with golf


With the U.S. Open being in town last week, I had the opportunity to reflect on my own rewards, challenges, and mishaps of “enjoying” the game of golf while watching the final round on Sunday.  And just like many of the players who came into town last week, there have been times where I have completely savored the moment and others times where I was thoroughly disgusted with my play.  Still, for many different reasons, I keep hitting the course, attempting to improve my game.  I probably will until my mind or body tells me I cannot keep playing anymore.

I am by no means a good golfer, but I have taken a few lesson so when I go out with friends or clients, I am not completely laughed off the course or become a sideshow.  It was during these lessons, my coaches taught me four valuable lessons that I feel transfer directly to leadership.

1. Change your perception.  Just like golf, being a leader is often a mind game and our perceptions often become our reality.  In my case, every time I played a round of golf, the ball went a different direction.  When I say a different direction, it wasn’t just a hook or slice.  There was the fade, then a draw, maybe a pull or a push.  Other times, the ball went up and I even helped the groundskeeper trim the grass on occasion.  I thought it must be the clubs since they were regular length, so I went out and bought a new set of clubs adjusted for my height only to have the same problem.  Explaining this to a coach one day, I was educated on my perception when he took one of my daughter’s junior irons out and proceeded to hit the ball 175 yards in a straight line.

Similarly, I hear concerns from different leaders about having the wrong clubs in their company.  Their employees do not care or they work poorly.  Sometimes, their clubs fall out of the bag.  These leaders are too afraid to address their concerns, which results in more of an adversarial relationship with their employees.  This adversarial relationship creates conflicting agendas prompting the lack of caring and engagement.  It also increases turnover of their good employees, leaving the lower performers to do what they must.

In a poll published in the Wall Street Journal, more than three-fourths of workers said they are personally motivated to help their company succeed and were willing to put in extra effort to make that happen.  The report also said that workers remained engaged in their company’s success if the employer provides “strong leadership, advancement and development opportunities, and a sense of control over their work environment.”

Most organizations want to blame employee apathy on wages and benefits, but they actually do not play a big role in why people stop caring about their jobs.  The company provides a paycheck, but employees work for people.  The overwhelming majority of employees stop caring because of the way they are treated every day.  They can even deal with a boss who is demanding and quick to criticize, as long as he or she treats every employee the same way and they can feel proud of their company and of what they do.

Have you examined the reasons your employees may not care or if you have created an adversarial relationship?  As a leader, changing your perception and understanding it might not be the club may go a long way.

2.  Loosen your grip to gain control.  During another lesson, the coach pulled me away from hitting the ball and asked me to hold my club straight out in front of me.  Once I had the club out in front of me, he tried to pull it out of my hand.  My grip was so tight he could not pull it away, confirming his assumption that I was holding the club too tightly, and wasn’t allowing the club to do the work.  He went on to tell me to hold the club in front of me vertically and slowly loosens the grip until it begins to fall and then slightly adjust my grip to hold the club.  He said it was like holding a bird in my hands.  Hold it tight enough that the bird will not fly away, but loose enough that it will not choke or kill the bird.

As I did this, he explained that my job is simply to swing the club.  The club is designed to strike the ball, so just relax.  Maintain just enough control to ensure alignment with the direction and distance you are aiming for.  The power to achieve the distance lies in the club being employed and the chosen swing.  Physics will take care of the rest.

Likewise, I find many leaders holding on too tight and not entrusting their employees to do their job.  Essentially they are micromanaging their employees because they don’t feel like they can do the job as good as they can.

One of the best pieces of business advice I have ever received is this: “Hire people smarter than yourself or that can fill in your weaknesses.”  Great leaders are able to accurately gauge their own skills and abilities.  Instead of assuming you know everything about everything, be realistic about your own strengths and weaknesses.  Hire people who can fill the gaps, and then trust them to do their jobs.  This means being more selective about who you hire, paying your employees what they are worth, and developing their skills along the way.

Are you strangling the bird?  Do you treat your employees as entrepreneurs of their job?  Give them the right tools to do their job and let them do it.  With employees, autonomy breeds engagement and satisfaction.  Autonomy also breeds innovation.  Let employees have some amount of freedom to work the way they work best.

3. Shoot for the same hole. It may seem obvious that a foursome will all shoot for the same hole on the green.  In my case, I did not know they move the hole around.  Even though I had played the course before, I was aiming for the old hole, coming up either too short or too long.  This resulted in some real long putts and my short game suffered.  After a brief education on the hole placement based on the color or height of the flag, I was able to shoot for the same hole and save a stroke or two.

The same could be said about business and having the same goals.  Goals or key performance indicators when implemented correctly are fun and the right targets create a sense of purpose and add meaning to even the most repetitive tasks.  Without a goal to shoot for, work is just work.  We all like to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves and nothing will propel your company forward faster than common organizational goals.

Without goals, how will you know when you arrive?  How will everyone know if the hole has moved?  When everyone is shooting for the same hole, it lets employees know what you want the business to achieve.  It also builds accountability up and down the organization and increases communications.  Problems can be addressed before they become too big and it will allow you to change course, if needed.

4.  Celebrate innovation and success.  The 19th hole is as much a part of golf as the previous 18, and my coaches taught me some of the finer details about golf at the 19th  Yeah, 19th hole often involves alcohol, but that’s not what I am advocating here.

What I am advocating is to provide the right kind of praise and be specific.  Don’t just say “Great Job!”  If you do not recognize your employees for doing great work, you can hardly be called a caring leader.  If you only “recognize” your employees when they do something wrong, it sends the same message.  Your employees are the ones who are helping you grow your business.  Be generous with your praise and encouragement.

Do you regularly find employees doing it right?  If you do, do you give them positive feedback they need and celebrate the small their victories?  Show them the appreciation they deserve by letting them know how integral they are to the success of your business.  Much like the 19th hole, it’s about enjoying the finer moments of leadership.  If you don’t do it, no one will.

Remember, for many golfers, it’s that one great shot that keeps them coming back and continuing to enjoy the game.  It’s the same thing with your employees.  You might not be playing in the U.S. Open, but it still requires the same focus and commitment to become a better leader.