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Golf - the perfect analogy for developing as a Leader

This is a risk, even mentioning the word #golf will have switched some of you off already…please even if you have never played the game, regard it as a “waste of a good walk” or worse please stay with me. I wouldn’t describe myself as a “golfer”. When I was a teenager, me and three mates hacked our way round our local municipal, second hand clubs, scores in the hundreds. Now a lot, lot older as I slowly and badly reacquaint myself with the sport, it is still as hard and frustrating as it ever was…..and it should be so easy! The ball is stationary when you try to hit it, just you and the ball, no opponent bashing the ball back at you, no-one trying to tackle you.

This is the first leadership similarity; #leadership looks like it should be so easy (especially to those who aren’t in leadership positions!) yet to be good takes development, practice even coaching. Just like good golfers, there are #leaders who have some qualities which are helpful in some situations but to be honest I have never met a “born” great leader who is just effortlessly knows what to do and what to say instinctively.

The second, leadership analogy is the bag of clubs golfers carry around with them. Almost every shot in golf is unique, the distance, the lie of the ball, trees, sand, the wind etc. Each club is designed to help with each of these different situations. The #goodgolfer consciously thinks about each shot and selects the right club to get the outcome they want. Good golfers realise that sometimes it is better to play a safer shot to make sure of progress rather than risk all and just blast all out towards the green, better to chip out of the bunker and be faced with a long putt than try to chip in and remain trapped in the sand.

This is exactly what great leadership looks like in action. #Greatleaders have their own “bag of clubs”, a collection of techniques, approaches, behaviours that they have developed to help them get the best outcome in any (most) situations. Every challenge, decision, audience or individual a leader encounters is different, to get the best outcome you need to think and then select the right approach. Sometimes it is better to take two steps to reach the desired outcome, sometimes you have to take a risk and push on through quickly.

I’ve seen many “one club” leaders, they have got to their leadership position through a single approach to every situation – for some only the safest 7 iron, nothing risky or creative, softly softly, for others they seem to have only the biggest club, the Driver, in their bag, “I hit everything as hard as I can”. In our complex world of leadership ultimately one approach, however honed or perfected will fail and will always leave damage behind.

So, don’t be a one club leader, assess every situation from every angle and choose the right leadership club – the approach, the behaviour, the setting, the way of communicating - to get the outcome that moves you and the organisation forward. Think about your current leadership skills and capabilities, how many clubs do you have in your leadership bag right now?

Keep learning and developing, use others as role models or coaching as a way to add different clubs to your bag as you become the most complete leader you can be.

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