My youngest daughter, age 9, played in a local golf tournament this past weekend. The tournament was fairly low key: one day, 9 holes played from around 1500 yards. There were only a handful of girls playing compared to the hoards of young boys that were out there teeing it up. In some ways that made it more special; knowing that my daughter was developing a passion for something that is not a typical “girl sport.” She was being and I think always will be an individual.
I was assigned the task of serving as her caddie for the day. While I occasionally play golf, I am far from an expert of the game. I like to think I understand what to do on the course, but I know for sure my swing does not produce the expected results on a regular basis. Yet here I was serving as the advisor for a 9 year old girl playing in one of her first competitive, albeit low key, golf events. The decisions to be made were endless and the pressure was always on – What club should she hit off the tee? Should she try and carry the creek on her second shot or be conservative and lay up? Play it safe and just punch out from the rough or try and make the SportsCenter-worthy miracle shot from the rocky, deep grass? Is that putt going to break left or right, or both?
After spending a day as caddie in a tournament, I have a much deeper level of respect for the men and women that make a career out of caddying. Their jobs are much, much more than just carrying the golfer’s bag around the course.
After the round was over, I looked back and thought, “wow I gave her some her pretty bad advice on several of those shots.” I counted up 7-8 strokes I could have easily saved her on the round if I had provided better counsel. I started thinking about why I made provided the advice I did- was I really that bad of a caddie?
While in the end she is the player and it is up to her to make the final decisions and execute the shots, she was relying on me to give her good advice to have a successful round. Several factors came to mind as to how I could have made such lousy recommendations to my own daughter:
1) It was our first time on this particular course, so neither of us knew the layout well nor did we know the nuisances of the greens.
2) I did not fully understand the extent and limits of her golf skills so I did not always know what shots she could and could not make nor which club she needed to hit in order to make the best shot.
3) I did not fully understand her state of mind; her confidence to attempt certain shots on the course and her confidence to question what I was telling her to do when she had a different opinion.
So what happened? I at times advised a strategy that was too aggressive and at other times was too conservative. I recommended her hitting a 9 iron (which was the right club for landing a beautiful shot in the water) instead of going with the 7 iron that would have carried the creek. I encouraged her to go for the glory shot from the rough, when the smart play, and the one she could have executed, would have been to just punch out into the fairway. I told her putt from 3 feet off the fringe of the green when she really wanted to chip but lacked the confidence in her game to tell me so.
I know I learned some things from this weekend and I know she did too. I fully expect that the next time she plays in a tournament that she will play better and assuming she lets me back “on her bag”, that I will be a better advisor to her.
However, I think the lesson for me is deeper than girls’ junior golf. The more I think about it the more I see that there is a business lesson in here too: A lesson on how to better manage teams and understand the ability of employees to execute on a strategy and be successful. Drawing from that golf course experience, there are four things a business leader can do to lead a business to successful results.
1) Know the environment;
2) Understand the capabilities of the business and the capabilities of the employees delivering the services of the business;
3) Understand the tools that employees need to efficiently and effectively carry out tasks and provide access to the right tools at the right time;
4) Remember that employees are people, not machines. They have feelings and insecurities.
Know the Environment
To be successful leaders must understand the external environment in which the business operates. In today’s global economy that is no small feat. You must keep abreast of the challenges being faced by your customers and adapt your product and service offerings to address those challenges. You must also keep an eye on competitors and be aware of changes made in their offerings. In addition, you must be aware of the global economy and significant events happening around the world. If you think the debt problems in Greece or the flooding in Southeast Asia has no bearing on your business – you may be caught by surprise.
You must also maintain a full grasp on what is happening within your own business. You must understand which products, services or lines of business are profitable and what is driving changes in margin – both good and bad. You must also understand the challenges being faced in delivering products and services. You have to know where you have quality issues, inefficient processes, and even where you have internal conflicts between departments.
Finally, you have to know about all the things you don’t know that you don’t know – because those of things that can jump up and bite you.
Acknowledging your strength and weaknesses of your business and your employees is critical to achieving success. I know that SWOT (strength –weaknesses – opportunities – threats) analysis is going “old school” in today’s world of pop management, but the basic premise still holds true. On a macro level you have to know where you have an advantage over your competitors and where your business is vulnerable.
The same hold true at the individual level. Our employees are living, breathing, people. No two are the same and none are perfect. You must understand each person’s strengths and weaknesses and determine how to best leverage the strengths and improve on the weaknesses of each employee. Unfortunately in some cases where the weaknesses are abundant and the strengths are limited, that may mean moving an individual out of their role or even out of the company.
Companies invest significant amounts of capital each year on acquiring and updating tools for their businesses. Tools can be complex pieces of manufacturing equipment, multi-terabyte storage arrays, the iPad or Droid tablet that everyone insists they need, a new fangled cloud communication service or even what we think of as traditional tools – likes hammers, air wrenches, or drills. But just spending money on new things does not directly equate to business success. You have to understand how the tools are to be used and how the use of those tools will equate to either a more efficient process or a better quality product/service. You have to find the right tools for the right situation and be decisive in the use of those tools.
Remember: Employees are People
Many in business talk about employees using the term “resources”, in fact in most companies the department charged with dealing with employees is called ‘Human Resources.” But at times, we take that term too literal and look at employees the same say we do other resources – computing resources, machine resources, natural resources. We forget the employees are people and people are far from perfect. They have good days and bad days; and many (perhaps all of us if we really look deep enough) have insecurities – including insecurities about their skills and their knowledge of the business in which they spend a huge part of each day. As leaders of a business, you must recognize the valuable insight that employees have about the business and take time to listen to their ideas – even going as far as to coax those thoughts out into the open from those that are hesitant to share their opinions due to those insecurities.
As I reflect back, those 3 hours on the Twin Creeks golf course in Austin, Texas were more than a way to fill the hours leading up to the Super Bowl. I gained a better appreciation for my daughter, the game of golf, the work of caddies, and about how I need to approach things at the office. In short, I experienced a 3 hour “life lesson.” Here’s hoping for the chance for many more of those in the coming years.