I grew up in a house in San Francisco where golf seemed like the most important activity in the world. My father, a policeman, was on the swing shift and did not spend a lot of time with my brother and me, but when he did, we talked, practiced and played golf. For 30 years, my father played every Friday with the same foursome (his team). We practiced putting in the living room. When my brother reached high school, he joined the golf team and became “first man.” He even developed a booklet about putting with photos in it.
So beginning about age eight, golf (as well as football) became my passions and frustrations. While the 49ers in the 50′s and 60′s were usually talented but always disappointing, I could turn to golf and learn something about taking responsibility. I learned I needed equipment and clothes that fit my sport. I needed to practice not only the long shots but also the little putts. I needed to concentrate and not make excuses for missed shots. I learned that even though I was small, I could score well, especially on the short courses.
Qualifying for my first tournament, I played terribly, scored 126 and fell to the bottom of the 13th flight. I knew I was better than that and my brother, who was five years older, knew that too, so he started coaching me and changing my swing. What he taught me to do felt strange and awkward for quite a while, but his confidence got me over the hump.
On the first hole as I began match play competition, the starter was announcing on the microphone who was up. He had seen me top the ball a few feet the day before. When I teed off, the ball soared down the middle, and the starter yelled, “Wow!” I felt that shout like a shot of energy.
I won my first two matches but faced a better player in the third round. My brother caddied for me, and kept his confidence when I went two down with four holes to go. When I won the next four, I was elated, and went into the finals. I was playing someone who acted contemptous of me and shook my confidence, but my big brother kept me focused. I won and got a little medal, but a big boost in life. I learned to be willing to change, to trust a coach and to stick with it when the going gets tough was fun.
You can probably make your own connections about how this story relates to management. But one theme keeps coming back to me lately that relates golf and communication. Plenty of people believe that they are fine at golf, but few shoot par. The better golfers build their focus and confidence with reading, practice and coaching. They discuss how the round went with those close to them who care and understand.
Most of us don’t get to be good communicators unless we have a pro to learn from and model ourselves after. We need feedback, both on our plans and how we play the game. We can’t develop our skills sitting in our office. We need to get out on the course and watch the results of each shot. We need to keep score or measure our success. And we shouldn’t accept just hitting the ball in the general direction of the hole as good enough. Given the distance, the terrain and what we do well, we need to choose the “right club” (so to speak).
Just as important as playing well ourselves is training and coaching someone else. Helping build others’ skills and confidence may be our most important legacy.