There are few things like that feeling you get when you stand at the tee amidst your fellow golfers and watch your golf ball majestically sail 300+ yards down the center of the fairway, a perfect drive. You smile from ear to ear and of course push your chest out just a little farther. Your golf buddies stand in awe only wishing they had shot such a beauty. For a golfer, the feeling of accomplishment is nearly unparalleled.
In celebration of the 80th anniversary of the golf’s most celebrated tournament, The Master’s at Augusta, I thought it would be fun and insightful to draw some parallels between the great game of golf and leadership—especially at home.
Now, I only wish I could really call myself a golfer. I’m more of a weekend hacker. And, honestly, even that is probably exaggerating my golf game. I’m not very good. But, I sure wish I was. I’ve had some shots like the one described above. But, they are too few and too far between. But, oh how I love that feeling—especially when my golfing with the guys.
In an effort to improve my poor golf game, I took some lessons a few years ago. I was hoping (well even praying) for something magical to happen. Maybe the golf pro would give me two or three lessons and then I would go out to the greens and have my way with the course.
If you know anything about golf, well you know that didn’t happen. Yes, I know you’re laughing or shaking your head or both.
Even after a few lessons, I could barely even hit the ball consistently much less the perfect shot that I watch the pros do routinely (as demonstrated by Tiger Wood’s “perfect swing” in this video).
The first thing that my golf coach stressed to me is the need to unlearn poor habits that I had developed during my years of just going out and trying to figure it out on my own. These bad habits were going to limit my ability to grow as a golfer.
It was frustrating because it looked like the coach was making me worse. I went from being able to pretty consistently hit the ball using my home-grown approach to embarrassingly missing or shanking each shot.
As I think back over my months of golf lessons, I can’t help but think about the consistent parallels to leadership and family life.
But, like my golf coach painfully instructed me, sometimes you have to unlearn some bad habits before you can grow into the leader that you are destined to be.
With that, here are five golf lessons to grow your leadership skills in your home, work, or ministry.
Lesson #1: Get in the Right Position
One of the first lessons that you learn in golfing is the importance of your stance or as some call it your “set up”.
Ultimately, your performance (hitting the ball to your desired location) will be determined by whether you are in position to make that happen. Your coach will tell you to get your feet set shoulder length apart, bend your knees, and straighten your back. Improper position limits your effectiveness.
The same is true when providing leadership, especially in the home. Leadership is about “relational equity”. Many leaders think that position gives you relational equity. But, that isn’t true.
Relational equity is earned status or credits that you accrue based on the good rapport that you’ve established. If you have not established an effective, trusted “position” in your home, work, or ministry then your leadership attempts will be resisted. This is because you don’t have sufficient relational equity to leverage.
For example, have you ever been in the position where you tried to implement a positive change in your home. But, your children and/or spouse resisted your well-intended efforts. You may have felt rejected. This requires a change of position. You first have to work to build the trust. Then your efforts will meet with more success.
Lesson #2: Loosen Your Grip
One of the important early lessons that you learn in golf is the position of your hands when holding the club. It is important to have a good, relaxed grip. You should only hold the club tightly enough so that it doesn’t go flying out of your hands on your swing.
On more than one occasion my golf coach would ask me why I had such a “death grip” on the club. I couldn’t help it. No matter how much I tried to be loose, the minute I started my swing, I would tighten my grip. The problem is that when you are gripping the club so tightly it tenses your whole body and it prevents the club from naturally flexing to do its job.
There is an important leadership lesson too. So many of us are control freaks. Click here to see if you might have a control freak in the family.
We believe that if we keep a tight “fist” around our home that we are going to control a desired outcome. Our home or workplaces becomes a series of rules that makes everyone feel like they are walking on proverbial eggshells. While our efforts to control may sometimes yield our desired result, it generally damages the relationships and fosters a pensive and defensive culture among all those who we care about.
The reality is that by loosening our grip or control tendencies at home that we create an atmosphere of trust and empathy that actually increases the probability that more positive outcomes will ensue.
Lesson #3: Let the Club do its Job
There are many types of clubs in the golfer’s bag. You have your drivers that are typically used off the tee for long drives. You usually have at least a couple of different types of drives. Then, you have a full set of irons designed to take on different distances and environmental conditions. And, you also have a couple of wedges to tackle those hazards (long grass, sand) that have come your way. Finally, you have the putter to close the deal. Each club has its strengths—an ideal condition for which it is best suited.
You don’t try to use one club to do every shot.
Yet, as leaders at home and in other settings we too often fall into a “one size fits all” mindset. We think what worked for one child should work for all the children. We believe that because this is the way it was done in our family of origin that this is the only way that it can be done in our home today. We lose sight of the uniqueness and individuality of each person within our sphere of influence. When we forget about the special gifts and interests of each person, we fail to respect and value what they offer.
Good leadership looks for and recognizes the special talents and unique interests within the individual. Our role as a leader is to develop what is in them—not to get them to be what we want them to be. The effective leader trusts that with sensitive guidance that the person will develop into the person they are destined to be.
Lesson #4: Keep Your Head Steady
One of the hardest thing to do when taking that golf shot is to keep your head steady through the shot. It is so natural to raise your head in an attempt to watch your shot. The problem is that when you raise your head you also lift your shoulders. And, when you lift your shoulders you pull the club off of its intended path. The end result is that you do not hit the ball solidly.
The effective golfer has trained himself/herself to patiently hold the position and resist the natural tendency to watch where the ball might go.
Similarly, the effective leader develops the patience and psychological confidence to allow the people with whom they are invested to operate without feeling like they are constantly being watched. Again, this fosters a sense of trust and respect.
Children’s independence grows as they come to believe that their parents aren’t going to constantly be watching them because they trust them to do the right thing.
Spouses feel a sense of freedom and liberation when they don’t feel like their every action is being scrutinized, evaluated, and critiqued.
Yes, give constructive, age and situation appropriate guidance. But, then resist the temptation to micro-manage. Let others test their wings. They just might surprise you.
Lesson #5: Follow Through
My final golf lesson is about follow through. The last part of the swing is the follow through. It is the closure for the swing and though it is the end it is no less important. In fact, the final trajectory of the ball is very much influenced by the golfer’s ability to maintain a good balance and clean follow though.
Throughout this article, I’ve encouraged letting go of the reins a little more in order to allow people to become secure in their own abilities. This is vital.
However, great leaders have a way of staying connecting with what is going on—keeping a pulse on those within his or her sphere of influence. Sometimes this follow through is a verbal check in to see how things are going and asking if any help is needed. Other times follow through is about rewarding an excellent effort or outcome. Still other times follow through is about correcting poor behavior.
Timely follow through is a key to learning as it establishes what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. It ensures that the systems are running at their optimal peak. Your family and your teams perform best when each person knows that you are truly engaged in their life—and follow through clearly sends this message.
And, just as the great golfers maintain excellent balance throughout their shots from beginning to end, so do great leaders. Balance allows you to focus both on the content/task and the relationship. It allows you to maintain a healthy emotional center regardless of the conditions that arise. And, ultimately it makes you the leader that builds relationships that change the world.
For you golfers out there, what other parallels do you see between golf and leadership?