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Leadership lessons from the Ryder Cup


Continuing an exclusive series of articles offering leadership lessons from everyday life, Neil Twogood examines Colin Montgomerie's role in the 2010 Ryder Cup.

After torrential downpours, a change in format and an unprecedented fourth day of play, the 2010 Ryder Cup reached a nail-biting finale. A gritty fightback by the Americans took it down to the last match and the end result was a European victory by the slimmest of margins.

"The best laid plans of any leader can of course unravel. How you respond often determines the outcome."

Colin Montgomerie, the European team captain, claimed it was the greatest moment of his golf career. From the role he played, there are clear lessons for leaders in terms of planning and preparation, delegation, teamwork, decision making, authenticity, motivation, recognition and responsibility.

Planning and preparation

A Ryder Cup captain doesn't swing a club in the event. However he chooses the vice captains, and some wild card team members; he has to manage the players (and massage egos), build camaraderie, select the pairings, make speeches, give interviews and generally create the conditions in which the team can thrive.

All leaders have to plan and prepare and ensure they have the right people around them. Montgomerie surrounded himself with experienced Ryder Cup men as vice-captains, to share the load. In itself, this is a lesson in delegation as they were his 'eyes and ears' on the ground and they played a very visible role, supporting every team member on the course. Monty's meticulous planning eventually paid dividends when Graeme McDowell, who was selected for the singles anchor role, won the decisive final match.


A key aspect of leadership that a Ryder Cup captain doesn't have to contend with is setting the vision. The goal is clear from the outset and the players know what they have to achieve.

The real leadership challenge - and it's one of the most fascinating aspects of the Ryder Cup - is to bond the team. Golf is a very individualistic game. A Ryder Cup captain has to promote a culture of togetherness among world-class sportsmen, all multi-millionaires, who spend the rest of the year doing their best to beat each other. The captain has to turn a group of competitive and high achieving individuals into a team - and quickly. This is, surely, a relevant analogy for many leaders.

It's a challenge that is possibly easier for the Americans, as at least they all share the same nationality. However, the European captain has to unite individuals from different countries, to play under the umbrella of their continent. This is the only occasion in sport where one team plays for the whole of Europe! It's a classic team dynamic and it is to Monty's credit that the European team was harmonious, energetic and passionate.


An important factor in Montgomerie's favour was that he had the respect of his team. This is advantageous for any leader. Having been Europe's talisman as a player, Montgomerie also had a thorough understanding of his role as captain.

Importantly, he was a very authentic leader and he showed his integrity. The lesson here of course is: be yourself. In leadership, you cannot try to be someone you're not. Although their styles contrasted, both Ryder Cup captains were authentic. Corey Pavin, of the US, was courteous and understated, whereas Montgomerie prowled the fairways as a larger-than-life ball of emotion.


The best laid plans of any leader can of course unravel. How you respond often determines the outcome.

"Perhaps the true leadership legacy of a captain is not so much whether he wins but whether he was able to truly inspire his team."

Monty showed that he could take decisive action when necessary. On the Saturday of the Ryder Cup, the Americans led after the morning session but Europe hit back in the afternoon and gained a lead in all six matches. This changed the complexion of the competition. It was Monty's intervention that made the crucial difference. By all accounts, he gave the players a roasting. Not because they were playing badly but because they weren't playing to their potential. Their response laid the foundations for victory. Monty's intervention epitomises the balance between challenge and support that every leader needs to address.


Montgomerie selflessly claimed the victory was down to his players, each of whom had contributed at least half a point. However he was also keen to recognise and acknowledge the contribution of everyone involved, including the backroom staff, the caddies, the physios and the wives and girlfriends. All of them were seen as part of the team.


An interesting lesson from the Ryder Cup is the narrowness of the margin between success and failure - and how the fickle finger of fate can make or break a leader. Sometimes, it will deal you the right card; sometimes it won't. In the Ryder Cup, whether you win or lose, it is ultimately the captain who takes responsibility for the outcome. Perhaps the true leadership legacy of a captain is not so much whether he wins but whether he was able to truly inspire his team.

Monty certainly did. So, despite having never won a major, he's secured a place in history with his connection with the Ryder Cup. He may be an unlikely role model for leaders but Colin Montgomerie certainly got a lot of things right.

It was certainly the best sports event I have attended. Passion, theatre, skill and drama all in copious quantities. I can't wait for Chicago in 2012 when Europe will be the 'away' team. Can anyone get me tickets for Gleneagles in 2014?

Neil Twogood is chief operating officer at Performance Consultants, the leadership development and coaching specialist. Drawing on its experiences in elite sport and business, the firm develops tailored programmes and events that enable leaders to enhance relationships, improve their effectiveness and achieve their goals.

Neil can be contacted at or on +44 (0)20 7415 4055.

Author Profile Picture
Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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