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How Extraordinary Golf Leads to Extraordinary Leadership

Years ago, I had to give a talk at the Society for Information Management Regional Leadership Forum. Someone asked me what I did in my spare time. After wondering what the heck was spare time, I babbled some stuff — reading, Sudoku, golf. Then the guy interrupted me and asked incredulously –you like to play golf? Well, the answer was absolutely NOT. However, considering some have said that g.o.l.f. stands for gentlemen only ladies were forbidden. When I was a CIO I realized that in this town

and in this industry a lady CIO needs to get some pink balls and a pink golf glove and stand on the red tees on behalf of information technology. So I was intrigued by the topic Making Today’s Dream Tomorrow’s Reality: What Golf Can Teach us About High Performance, Learning, and Enjoyment at an industry event I attended years ago. The talk was given by Fred Shoemaker, golf professional, coach, and author of the book Extraordinary Golf. He started the lesson with a small group the day before. He challenged us on our notion of what our goals were in the golf coaching session. The responses were not surprising: stop my slice; correct my form; hit more solid shots; etc. However, his coaching focused on two things: being “present” on the course and knowing your target.

Staying in the Present

In looking at the things that golfers are working on to improve their golf game, Shoemaker notes that on average, this takes up about 5% of the time that players spend in a round. The other 95% of the time is spent walking or riding around to your next shot. He discovered that the people who are most likely to improve are the people who have mastered that 95% time between the shots. This is what he calls being present on the course. Not living in the past of your historic performance … nor the future of wondering if you will look good … but in the present of being committed and enjoying the game.

What is your target?

The second learning moment was understanding what our target is. As we address the ball, is the target the ball? The plane on the backswing? Or that hole under the flag in the distance? He videotapes golfers with their normal swings. Then he removes the ball and has us release the club towards the target. This was transformative. Suddenly, everyone developed swings like the golf pros. In just a few seconds, it was like the Golf Channel. What a difference the right target made!

Fear, trust, and courage

In order to learn and grow in anything, it requires the willingness to explore and take risks and experience some amount of discomfort and confusion. We label this discomfort as fear and then start to narrow ourselves through the limitations that fear imposes.

But the good thing about fear is that without it, we wouldn’t need courage. Courage helps manage the fear, but trust keeps fear from recurring. Developing trust in yourself, and in this specific example in your golf swing, gives us the ability to execute with confidence.

Are you committed?

We all have our purpose in playing golf … just as we have our purpose in life. We confuse performance or goals with purpose. We are there to enjoy the game, not to execute the perfect drive. Are we committed to looking good with the perfect drive? Or are we committed to enjoying an amazing sport?

We do this in the workplace as individuals, managers, and leaders. Are we committed to the purpose of the project? Have we lost sight of the organization’s target because we are overly focused on performance? Now certainly performance is critical, but we don’t want a successful operation and a dead patient!

So in the putting exercise that Shoemaker had us do I learned something about golf and about myself. As I addressed the ball, dressed smartly with a pink shirt, pink glove, and a pink visor, I wasn’t thinking about the pink shoes that I forgot and left in the trunk, but I was thinking about the fact that for the first time, I focused on the ball as my target and was actually enjoying the sweet sound of a well-struck ball and the feeling of a good swing.

~Dr. Linda Cureton

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