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7 Things I Learned on the Links

Posted by Cristina Filippo on 06/21/2016

My 12 year old was not happy when I woke him up early Friday morning for our first golf lesson…the car was silent as we pulled in to the golf club – his lack of sleep and my lack of coffee, so far, were not a good combination.  The morning of embarking on this new adventure, I felt overwhelmed by the pile of work on my desk and the prospect of taking on a new skill that particular morning didn’t sound as fun as I had originally thought.  

My son and I love going to hang out at Topgolf and on a recent outing there, I downloaded an app to check out our form as we teed up.  Honestly, if I am going to invest time into something I want to do it well and, of course, according to the app, our form was terrible.  I had realized years ago that I enjoyed the golf course…the manicured grass, the sun and cool breeze, being able to be with friends…even though I did not know the difference between an eagle and a birdie!  So after being inspired by a friend who golfs often, coupled with my need to improve - I called for lessons.

It was a hot, muggy morning already hovering around 90 degrees.  Walking into the clubhouse were plenty of distinguished looking gentlemen who looked like they belonged there. We, obviously, were not golfers.  After being pointed in the right direction for lessons, Sebastian, our instructor, assured us we were going to have some fun.  I immediately could tell he would be engaging and encouraging. The first thing he said with a heavy French accent was “Golf is a mental game – it is all between your ears”.  Perfect.  I quickly assured him that the reasons behind taking lessons were two-fold – practicing good habits and learning about the psychological/mental aspects of the game.  

Here are my thoughts on learning a new skill…I am always looking for ways to improve my “inside game”.  There are certain aspects about myself that I know are so ingrained they are hard to get past – being too controlling, being too analytical, pushing too hard, among other things. Quite possibly if I can impact these “developmental opportunities” and have my brain approach them from a different angle, maybe I can make some progress.  After all, anytime you watch the great golfers you realize how much they have to know themselves and have the mental toughness to constantly up their game…prime example – did you see Dustin Johnson win the U.S. Open this weekend?  Enough said.  
What follows are bits of wisdom I picked up from Sebastian…amazing how what we struggle with in our leadership translates so easily to the golf course!

1.  Little Details Count.  Typically seeing the big picture and having a path is not a problem for me.  All of the more mundane details are what can derail me.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love the details to be taken care of – just not always by me.  Guess what?  In golf, as in life, these little details often can only be taken care of by us.  As Sebastian showed me the correct stance, maintaining my balance, having the correct form as I swing, etc., I realized that all of these small details make the difference between a good shot or a great one.  

2.  Don’t Overthink It.   As a psychologist I tend to overthink things and try to control outcomes.  What I found out that day is that I am decent at the big drives and putting, but as far as chipping goes, I am awful!  For some reason I just can’t quite get past the hump of feeling the right swing – I hold on to the club too tight and put too much energy behind it.  So much of golf has to do with the fluidity more so than trying to control the shot.  There is just a certain “feel” you have when you have hit the ball correctly. As leaders sometimes we have to go with our heart, not just our head – be intuitive especially when it has to do with people.  

3.  Be Focused and in the Moment.  Of course all of us struggle to be in the moment…we have more distractions than we have ever had and so being outside enjoying the beauty of a golf course, phone tucked away, is a welcome relief.  I was surprised how much I needed to focus on getting the correct form and not multi-tasking. You know that the brain can’t adequately focus on doing two things at once?  If you have a big deliverable, it is better to take that extra time, be free of the distractions and just focus on the task at hand with your best thinking.

4.  Check Your Ego at the Door.  While I don’t have to be the best at something, I definitely never want to come in dead last.  Picture two of us being instructed and for those of you that know my son, of course he was great…and I was not.  In my head I know that I don’t have to be perfect, somebody is always better...On a team much of the time you have to be selfless and "other aware" enough to know who the best person is for the job. Not letting your ego get in the way, being generous with credit - these behaviors are what will set you apart from other leaders.

5. Work on Improving Muscle Memory.  One of the things Sebastian emphasized was that taking a golf club and training your brain off the course can be the big difference to your game as you practice.  In golf, as in life, being able to practice when you are not in the heat of battle is a gift.  Being aware of what your bad habits are and being intentional in changing them is key…not doing that will derail you.  Trying to manage those “habits” in the middle of a crisis may be asking too much. Practice behaving differently in the small moments and habits will start being formed to impact the big moments.

6.  Learn How To Follow, Not Lead.  For those of us who own businesses, are heads of departments or are used to being in charge of family responsibilities, sometimes taking a back seat and letting someone else be in charge can be challenging, yet refreshing.  Being able to follow along, be open and listen is just as important to your leadership journey as being in charge. When you are being led it lets you see things from a different perspective.  It also lets you understand what good and bad leadership is.

7.  Sometimes It Really Is All Up To You.  Golf doesn’t let you hide.  You either have the mental fortitude and put in the practice time or you didn’t.  This weekend Dustin Johnson had the insight going into the U.S. Open to ignore the ghosts of majors past.  He said he told himself “It’s just me and the course.”  Many times as a leader you have to rely on your team…but sometimes it’s up to you.  Sometimes you are the one who has to step up and bring home the win. 

In Summary 
In our work with our clients all of the words of wisdom that Sebastian disclosed on the course can be applied to our collective leadership journey off the course. If you are forcing a play, not getting the “feel” of the game or continuing to use the same technique that never works, you end up unsuccessful and defeated as a golfer - the same can be said off the course.  The key to remember here is that this is the practice – we will never master golf or leadership.  Part of the fun is knowing yourself and your team, adapting your shot to the hole, progressively getting better and, hopefully, enjoying the ride!

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