Golf & I

The game of golf has many leadership lessons to offer to the global manager. Whether it is playing the sport of golf or leading an organization, facing and overcoming challenges is par for the course.

With the current economic environment being reminiscent of a pressure cooker scenario, there are even more parallels between golf and leadership. Today, leaders are faced with the difficult situation of having to continuously achieve results within a recessionary economy while at the same time trying to satisfy increasingly demanding customers to ensure they stay loyal to the brand. Not only that, after waves of cost-cutting leaders are continuously faced with the challenge to cut costs even further while keeping the team motivated and focused even though many of their associates have just been laid off.

In such situations, the pressure faced by leaders is similar to that faced in the final round of a golf tournament. Leaders face the risk of sub-optimising their impact unless they take control of the situation and focus on finding hidden opportunities. Like in golf, one must take ownership, assess the scope of the situation and focus on what they can personally do to address the challenge as it is futile to blame others.

Golf & I... is an attempt, to find new ways to share these insights about leadership with peers. It's a path breaking effort to bring seasoned business leaders and top-notch golfers together using the sport of Golf as a medium for management and leadership development

Learning and self-development is almost always associated with the classroom. More often than not, professional development takes a very directive approach. However, being a good leader is not about simply teaching strategies, processes to team members but rather about letting the individual choose the method that best suits them. Golf & I is an experience enabling CXOs to develop increased self-awareness by exploring the leadership fundamentals of authenticity and integrity. Here is an opportunity that blends lessons from leadership and golf, taking valuable concepts from each and revealing something unique through their combination.

The first parallel that can be drawn is the importance of being honest and facing up to mistakes. Any strong leader knows how important it is to face up to mistakes. When you’ve erred, step up and admit the mistake. And when it’s time to celebrate: go ahead and bring team members together for some merriment. Like golf, leading is often a solitary effort. Each time a golfer completes a hole and reaches for the scorecard pencil, the opportunity to change the score from a 7 to a 6 is ever present. The leader and golfer must have the discipline though to be honest and play by the book even when there are opportunities to take shortcuts.

Leaders need to train their minds to be constantly introspective and understand why they do the things they do. Being authentic is essential and integrity in everything one does is beyond compromise. This is what separates managers from leaders. While managers simply achieve business results, the leader is able to create a legacy and impact a much larger ecosystem than the business at hand.

Golf also teaches managers the importance of implementing new skills and techniques and the value of critical feedback. While you may hire a personal coach to enable you to drive a ball 300 yards on the practice tee, this learning is of no value if you do not put any of the golf swings you learnt into practice or refuse to accept feedback from your golfing partners and scores. Sports provide a platform leaders more open to feedback by ensuring that participants get pointers not only from professional facilitators but also from other participants and their current situation.

Not only that, the highest levels of adult learning often happen when the inner child is allowed expression. There is a strong child in every person. When that child gets an opportunity to participate in something 'playful' such as a game, it learns to experiment, innovate and discover new ways of doing things. Golf teaches managers that contrary to popular belief, leadership is fun and not something that can simply be ‘taught.’ By playing and discovering, leaders learn to trust not only in themselves but also learn to trust those around them.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart. While in leadership, one is often challenged with long hours, belligerent managers, unreasonable expectations, and inflated egos; in golf, there are stretches on the course where one's swing deserts them and it is easy to give up. At those times, strong leaders and golfers must push through the difficulties and drive results, exceeding expectations with flying colors.

Srikanth Karra, Director of Human Resources at HP India says, "Using Golf for leadership development is an amazing experiment and is exactly what the leaders need. Playing golf taught me that similar to a golf game, leaders must look beyond the peaks and troughs of business and focus on the long term. When faced with issues either on the course or off, you have to fight through the low spots and get your rhythm back. Never give up".

Another key take-away for leadership from golf is the power of enthusiasm. We all want to be around people that make us feel good. When playing golf, there are times that the golfer senses the game is letting them down. At those times, the golfer learns to take in the fresh air, the wind whistling through the trees and remember that they are doing something they love doing. Similarly, leaders must have the capability to motivate their team through their enthusiasm and make them believe that they are capable of tackling any challenges that may come their way.

Dr. Shailesh Ayyangar, Managing Director, Aventis Pharma Ltd says, "Like in Golf, in leadership, for real impactful and effective execution, one needs to keep the mind free from clutter and any negative thoughts. Core values of respect, courtesy, integrity and confidence and authenticity are overlapping traits for a leader and a golfer".

In golf and in leadership you have good days and bad days – no matter what you do, there are times when the ball will just not drop in the cup and some customers will just not be happy with your service. There are no shortcuts to success. What golf does is that it teaches managers to constantly question leadership fundamentals. It teaches the art of laser sharp focus in execution to enable managers to become leaders who leave behind legacies not businesses.

Business Leaders on Golf & Leadership

"Golf is a great teacher and an enjoyable leadership development programme."

– B. Muthuraman, Vice Chairman, TATA Steel

"At very age and stage, golf teaches you honesty, self governance, talking ownership and responsibility for your actions and decision to acheive the desired result.
As a leader, it is very much the same in the corporate environment, your mindset, nature, through analysis of a situation.... All real life lessons..."

– Shivas Nath, CEO - Evolution Golf, India & UAE