In the Rough – 5 Leadership Lessons from Golfers

I have to come clean.  I am not a golfer.  But I have loads of friends who are.

I’ve seen this sport make grown men cry. Dudes who are usually cooler than cucumbers lose their ‘nana on that emerald green landing strip. Normally chilled out cats go crazy thinking about how to improve their golf swing.

Golf seems to be more of a mind game than so many other sports. It engenders a love-hate type of hypnosis in players normally reserved for other situations, like the stunning ex who broke your heart but you continue to stalk on Facebook.

Intrigued to find out more, I spoke to ‘said’ golfing mates about what makes hitting that little white ball around a field so addictive.

As I did, metaphors between golf and leadership were uncovered, and themes which had resounding relevancy for leading tumbled from my friends’ mouths.

(You know me, lookin’ for the leadership angle anywhere I can!)…

Here are 5 leadership lessons from golfers:

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is as important in golf as it is in effective leadership.  Lack of concentration, lack of form, lack of focus on what is right in front of us, this precise moment in time – all of these things make a big difference.  Being aware and completely in the moment is vital for both a well executed golf swing and good leadership.  As one friend put it, “when I focus on the individual steps I need to take and I think about what I am doing, not rushing it, I always hit it better.”

2. The value of the ‘vision’.

So many of the golfers I spoke to said that positive mental imaging had a direct influence on how well they hit.  Before swinging, visualising the ball travelling where they wanted it to go had a significant impact on how they played.

In leadership, being clear on what success looks like is also paramount to achieving it. See here for what I mean.

3. What to do (and what not to do) when you are in the rough.

If you’re going to be a leader and ‘play the game’, it’s inevitable you will end up in the metaphorical ‘rough’ at some stage. My golfing buddies tell me when found in this bind, responding not reacting is the name of the game.

And so it is with leadership – knee jerk reactions are unhelpful in both situations. It is easy to just “smash the sh*t out of that damn ball” but before you give in to that initial momentary release, stop. Breathe. Examine the ball (translate “examine the situation”) closely. Breathe (again). Then ask yourself, what is needed in this situation?

4. Enjoy the journey (even the tough parts).

So many people, when asked what they love about this sometimes infuriating game, responded with answers which reflected the journey and the experience of playing the round, not just their score at the end.

Whether it was the camaraderie or the way the game teaches the value of slowing down and patience. Or learning to enjoy the challenges (aka bunkers and rough) – after all, that’s where we often learn the most.  With golf it is all about the total experience, frustrations and all, that keep devotees coming back.

5. Every time is a different experience.

Things…I’m sure they are constantly a changin’.  With golf, every time a game is played, there are a different set of circumstances.  For example, a new golf course, weather conditions, and your frame of mind.

And so it is every day we get up, put our work clothes on and go off to do our best in the corporate jungle. It’s worth keeping this at the forefront of your mind. Whilst models, rules of thumb and what’s worked in the past are all valuable, hold them lightly and don’t let them stop you taking note of what’s in front of you as you stare down the fairway today. Focus on what is needed right now, given every day is a new situation.

For those golfers out there, I am sure you can think of some better metaphors –tell me them, I would love to hear your perspective.

If you have liked this post, please share it with your golfing mates, and remember to like and follow my blog.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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