Leadership Lessons I’ve Learned While Teaching Golf

I’ve been teaching people how to play golf for many years. When they engage me for lessons I don’t know what to expect until I’m out on the range or the green with them, club in hand and I have the opportunity to see what they bring to the game and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

As a longtime teacher, course manager, and entrepreneur who’s been actively involved in the business of golf for all of my adult life, I’ve observed a number of parallels between my roles as a golf instructor and and a business leader. In many ways, teaching golf is a lot like managing employees. For this reason, I believe that what I do on the course with students directly influences and impacts how I relate to those who work for me. I’m glad to share the following lessons with you that you can apply to your life in the professional environment.

The importance of being a good coach.

I’ve heard stories about both athletic coaches and corporate bosses who have interesting approaches to how they manage people. Some are yellers and screamers who micromanage using aggression and intimidation while others realize the importance of nurturing and bringing out the best in the talented individuals who comprise their teams. I’ve found through experience that the latter approach leads to better results, both in the context of golfing and in business.

A key thing about being a coach or a manager is that you’re dealing with a variety of talents. It can only help if you respect individuals, take the time to help them develop their skills and be available when they have questions. This doesn’t mean being wishy-washy, but supporting them as they become more efficient and effective at what they do.

Developing talent.

Everyone is good or even great at some things. Our job as leaders is to understand what those things are early on, that’s the foundation. Maybe you can hit the ball 300+ yards off the tee but the ball keeps hooking or slicing and ending up in the trees. I can help correct direction once I see the swing and check the numbers but I won’t do it at the expense of distance. Similarly, in business, it pays to get to know employees’ abilities, work styles, personalities, and level of dedication. Discern the foundational strengths and build on top.

Setting goals.

You can’t really go anywhere unless you know where you want to end up. Specifics are important here. Before I teach students I always ask them what, specifically, they are hoping to accomplish. Maybe it’s shaving a few strokes off their game, adding several yards to their drive or being able to better address that 15-foot-putt that always seems to confound them. Once I know what they want to improve I can help them focus on that and work with them as they work toward their goals.

Motivation.

Countless books have been written about motivation. It’s something a coach or a manager needs to provide to others to keep them on the right track towards their goals. Watch and analyze. Are the people you work with working hard, passionate about what they do and developing their skills? Sometimes it helps to incorporate incentives. In my coaching practice I might need to motivate a student to lower his or her handicap, or prepare someone for tournament play. How you impart the importance of persistence, practice and dedication to reaching the desired positive outcome can mean the difference between success and not-quite-there-yet.

Patience.

In a perfect world everyone would do exactly what’s needed the first time they attempt it. But we’re all human and often, one of the biggest challenges in working with people is, that things take time. In my case it might take a student weeks or even months to build new swing thoughts into “muscle memory”. In business, it can often take longer than you expect for a result to be achieved as well. Although it’s human nature to desire instant gratification, real life doesn’t generally work that way. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I try to practice what I preach, and I’ve had a lot of success using my golf coaching skills in my business endeavors. It’s made me a better leader and it’s helped my colleagues become more valuable contributors to the organization.

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