On a summer day in 1975, I stepped up the tee at the Liberty Country Club. It was the first time I ever played on a real golf course.
My father stood back and watched as I drew back and swung as hard as I could. The head of the club clicked so solidly and cleanly against the ball that I barely felt the impact in my hands. The ball rocketed off of the tee and flew straight as an arrow down the fairway into the humid Indiana afternoon. It bounced twice then stopped 50 yards directly in front of the green.
It was a beautiful shot–absolutely beginner’s luck–and it was my finest moment as a golfer.
It was a fast nose dive into misery from that moment on. I was never able to replicate the combination of factors that produced that heavenly shot, and the rest of that afternoon was spent learning the ridiculous and arcane protocol that surrounds the world’s most frustrating sport. And I’m pretty sure I sweated completely through my belt.
There’s so much to hate about golf. The cost. The time it consumes. Live golf cams. People who talk about golf. (I know, that’s exactly how I started this post. I’m ashamed of myself.) I especially hate the TV commercials for The Masters. Who needs the tinkling background piano and Jim Nantz’s hushed tones about the tradition of Augusta National ruining the bliss of March Madness?
But the worst thing about golf is the notion that you can’t be successful in business unless you play it. Rubbish. I think that myth was created by people who like to play golf and would like to keep playing–on company time. I get the premise–meeting a client out of the office provides an opportunity to connect on a personal level, find common ground, be a host, and connect in a more relaxed setting.
But times are changing. Fewer people are playing golf (which means fewer clients are playing golf), and companies are cutting back on club memberships and other golf-related perks. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal reports that “The business of building new courses in North America is almost completely dead.” Don’t confuse your career path for the cart path.
In the guidebook Keeping Your Career on Track, my colleague Jean Leslie and I identify 20 strategies for leadership success–only a few of which can be learned on the golf course. Here are five lessons that help leaders adapt and change. Spending a ton of time on the links probably won’t help you develop them:
1. Consider if you are stuck in the past
Has your career progressed from a technical role to a managerial to a leadership role? Have your skills transitioned with you or are you still leaning on your old repertoire?
2. Develop informal feedback sources
Look both in and outside of your organization for people who have an opportunity to see you interact with others. When you ask for an opinion, for heaven’s stake, quit fidgeting, stop looking at your BlackBerry, and listen.
3. Be realistic about the culture of your organization
You don’t play politics? What does that mean? Do you even know how decisions get made in your organizations? Figure it out and roll with it.
4. Look up
Learn what skills are necessary for the job above you. Watch how people at that level interact with each other. In what ways are the rules different? Is the word “Dude” ever appropriate with your boss or her peers?
5. Continually increase your self-awareness
The cornerstone of any work we do with leaders at the Center for Creative Leadership always starts in the same place–with an open and honest look at one’s strengths and weaknesses.
Okay, this last one could be developed on the golf course. Paying attention to how you manage your competitive streak, the way you interact with others, and how you handle a disappointing shot are all matters of self-awareness that can be monitored and developed during a round. But golf isn’t the only way to do that, either. Have you considered hot yoga?