I spent much of the past summer working on my golf game, and I discovered that it is both wonderfully fun and frustrating. Learning to pick the right golf club; perfect my swing; read the green; and, of course, hole the ball in the fewest strokes: It's a rewarding but challenging game.
And I'm still learning! As I walk the course, thinking about my mental golf game, I sometimes find myself contemplating the parallels between this sport and the art of leadership. Let's look at some of the leadership lessons one can learn on the golf course, which became increasingly apparent to me during the summer months as I visualized my shots and worked toward improving my game.
Some days are better than others.
Golf is a fickle game. One day you hit birdie after birder (or at least par!) and your driver goes only straight. The next day you hit balls into the water and swing from the trees.
Leadership can be just as variable. Some days you live the notion of Teach Not Tell, effectively guiding your teams to the right answer instead of solving problems for them. You scale yourself as a leader while simultaneously growing your team.
Other days, however, you end a virtual meeting realizing you talked too much, you were short with a team member, or you took on someone's problem instead of helping them to solve it themselves. (Check out this classic leadership article, "Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?")
This is the reality of people leadership — and being a human. Some days we are great. Some days we are not as great as we’d like to be.
Happily, in golf and in leadership, there is always tomorrow.
Minor changes can make a big difference.
Anyone who has had their swing analyzed, has had a golf lesson, or simply saw a TikTok and tried a new swing technique knows that minor changes to the face of the club or to the position of your wrist can make a huge difference. In a golf lesson this summer, my instructor had me try a new grip with my driver, and BAM! I hit the best drive of my life. One small change had a big impact on my game.
Similarly, small changes in your approach to leadership can make a sizeable impact. One of the most powerful leadership lessons for leaders at all levels is the power of curiosity. As leaders, we can train ourselves to ask one more question, to suspend judgment before asking a clarifying question, or work to understand the logic of the team. These things can go a long way.
Often our business simulation scenarios tee up (no pun intended) the power of inquiry vs. advocacy and how both are required to ultimately reach alignment. Recently, I heard a story about one of our leadership development training programs in which a VP speaker led a Q&A session with more than 100 directors in the room. After each question, she asked a clarifying question in return. It was such a powerful technique, and every single person in the room felt heard by this incredible leader.
Asking one more question can make a big difference.
Peer coaching and mentors are invaluable.
My favorite days on the golf course are days spent with friends. I have some friends who have much more golf experience than I do and some fellow beginners. When I am struggling with a shot or need some guidance on which club to use, it is such a gift to have a friend in the cart right next to me.
The same is true in leadership. There is tremendous value in having a peer, someone who is in the same position as you or might have experienced something similar, with whom you can brainstorm.
In addition to developing a network of peers, it is critical to find a mentor, someone with more experience, to support you and your leadership journey. It is important — and comforting — for leadership development (at any level) to learn from the experience of others and to know that you are not alone in the challenges you face.
It’s a journey, not a destination.
The best way to improve your golf game is to play as much as you can. Practice. Get reps in at the driving range. Maybe even invest in a lesson. The more experience you have, the better your game will get.
Remember that even the pros struggle sometimes. In sport, there is no final destination. And even the greats get beat.
The same is true of leadership. There is no final destination. As leaders, we are continually learning and growing, taking on expanded roles, scaling ourselves, and building the capabilities of those around us. Our leadership skills grow when we get more leadership “reps” from new roles, from an executive or leadership coach, or from more formal leadership training courses that include experiential learning exercises.
Not only does the game of golf get us outdoors to enjoy nature and, ideally, enjoy time with friends and colleagues, but it also provides the important perspective that good things come to those who work for it.
Happy leading to all my fellow golfers!
Krista Campbell is an Associate Director who designs and facilitates business simulation-based learning programs at Insight Experience, an award-winning global leadership development company with an expertise in business simulations. She specializes in programs that promote communication, strategic thinking, and developing people.