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Why use golf to develop leadership?


The connection between golf and leadership

There's a surprising similarity between playing the game of golf and leadership. Once the analogies are made clear to you, you'll wonder perhaps why you didn't see it before. By the time you've finished reading this, you'll know the major connections and feel compelled to find out more. 35% of registered golfers in the UK are senior managers, professionals or executives , according to Mintel. This rises to 43.3% of London Golfers. And 12.8% of all golfers in the UK are senior managers, executives or professionals - that's about 1.8 million golfers are senior managers, executives and professionals in the UK alone! (Source: GB TGI, BMRB Quarter 4 2006/Mintel) 44% of senior managers executives and professionals in the UK have played, do play or would like to play golf. (Source: BMRB/Mintel) Add another 1.4 million managers (Source: GB TGI, BMRB Quarter 4 2006/Mintel) and you realise just how big a sport golf has become - and it id predominantly ABC1 who play the game, and still predominantly male - 83%! In part, business leaders, particularly those with some marketing or sales role deliberately play golf to network with prospects and clients. In part there's certainly some social status about being a golf club member, and for sure, in part there the ‘coincidence' of playing golf and being a business leader. What Mintel's research doesn't highlight though is that there's more to it than that. The characteristics of those who play golf and those who are business leaders shows considerable similarities. Let's take, for example, the desire to score well (even win) a round of golf. To be concerned about one's personal performance and strive to improve it relates to a strong personal ‘Achievement Orientation'. I want to do well because I want to do well. There are differences too, and important ones. On the golf course, the golfer is playing against the course. It is one of very few sports where the play of others has no effect on the golfer's performance at all... unless he (and it is predominantly still ‘he') allows it (the closest similar sport is downhill skiing). This is not the case for the majority of business leaders who'd personal performance can be impacted by the performance of others. So the golf course is the place where a player can assuredly adopt the attitude, it's MY performance and only MY performance that matters and only their actions change the result. This suggests the desire for control - or Directiveness. Some of the reasons golfers choose to play the game shows that 76% of them play for social reasons (Source: GMI/Mintel) - this demonstrates a desire, if not ability, in the competencies of influence and communication.

So why use golf to develop leadership?

It seems that the game of golf attracts business leaders more than other groups - & perhaps the conclusions above suggest why. So it became increasingly obvious to our team that golf could be both an attractive idea for development within this group, and that the game of golf itself could be deliberately used to develop the competencies and behaviours associated with great leadership. Indeed, many of our clients confirm the attraction of golf for our senior management training programmes by requesting training to take place at golf clubs, so the team can play golf after the training course. Albeit, not everyone on the programmes did play golf, the senior managers and board members invariably did. Our research into using simulations has shown that given a truly safe environment to practice the tools and techniques of leadership and management, participants not only learn more (23% greater learning) than using more traditional methods like case studies, they enjoy it more (17% greater) and demonstrate greater transfer of new behaviours to the workplace (26% greater transfer). Not only this, but studies in societies where females are considered disadvantaged in management showed a greater improvement in demonstrated management and leadership competencies after a simulation based programme than a traditional programme over their male counterparts 16% greater improvement in demonstrated competencies. The key to the success of using simulations is that they provide a realistic, safe environment to practice the tools, techniques and behaviours of great leadership (Source: Kenworthy 2005) Is golf a safe, realistic environment? The great thing about golf is that it is one of the very few activities that provides a genuinely level-playing field - through the well-established handicapping system. It may not be perfect, but it's very close. This means that a scratch golfer competes fairly with a complete beginner. There are also rules within which the game must be played - these represent the constraints of doing business. There are established game rules that encourage pairs or foursomes to work together, and there are rules to foster individual competition -sometimes in business we want our leaders to be entrepreneurial and ‘go-getters' - leading by example, at other times, we want them to be team leaders, or team players. Caddies, provide a perfect metaphor for coaches and mentors. The course itself provides a varied environment, shifting according to things beyond the control of the player, but observable by them. The hole provides a target, the course provides for a strategic plan to achieve the real goal. The points scored can directly relate to revenue or profit. The clubs and balls are resources - even the golf pro can be a consultant resource. The game of golf provides a fantastic platform to learn leadership - its safe and fair, it's as realistic as you need it to be and it's fun!

So what about the non-golfers?

So what about the non-golfers? Why would they participate - and let's face it, in an organisation you don't want to alienate the non-golfers by forcing them to participate in something they wouldn't normally... or would you? For our Leadership Golf Challenge programs we always offer golfers and non-golfers technical lessons before the event. We arrange with our certified golf pro's to put a special series of lessons for the new players - most often they perform better than those who've been playing for years because they don't bring along so many bad habits. We've even designed a special program exclusively for non-golfers - even all undercover (because non-golfers do not understand why golfers go out in the rain) - which combine technical golf instruction with the Leadership Golf Challenge.

Can you just play golf to develop leadership?

There's certainly something about the game of golf that shares characteristics of great leadership, but whether it's the playing golf that develops the person as a leader or that the leadership capability makes for a golfer is an unanswered question. Like any powerful training programme, leadership development needs a supporting, robust model of development. Unfortunately it's not much use telling someone to BE Jack Welch, or even to tell someone what it is that Jack Welch does - that doesn't make you a leader. Nor, can we simply seek to develop the 10 principles, 7 habits, 12 big things etc. of the best leaders in the world - leadership is personal - the first step in becoming a leader is to take charge of yourself and align your personal values to achieving what you want to achieve. If it were that simple then there wouldn't be a leadership issue anywhere in the world today.

Solid Foundations

Effective leadership development (indeed for adults to learn anything effectively) needs the learner to go through three learning processes according to Bloom -cognitive, affective and psychomotor learning. That we need to develop knowledge about leadership, associate a feeling or emotion with the desire to learn the knowledge and physically put that knowledge into practice. Most business leaders have some knowledge about what constitutes ‘good' leadership - though few practice it all the time. They may have seen ‘good' leadership exemplified by others in their past or present. They may have read a book on leadership - such as the 7 Habits. Where these most often fail to become new behaviours is twofold - Firstly, most examples of ‘good' leadership are often carried out ‘naturally' by the person demonstrating them -we often refer to them as ‘born leaders'. They are ‘good' leaders, but they don't consciously know what it is that they do - and therefore they are unable to share with others what they should or could do. Most books, on the other hand, tend to focus on one of two aspects - how to be a leader - here is Mr Great CEO and this is what he did, you must do the same. or they distil ‘best' behaviours and provide a checklist for you to do ‘good' leadership. In the former situation, the ‘born leader' is unable (or unwilling) to give you the requisite knowledge to learn. In the latter (books), they often fail to make an emotional connection to implement the knowledge (other than you've bought the book therefore you must want to learn), or they provide simplistic implementation checklists, do this, then this then this at work. If the new ‘habit' doesn't work first time, the book provides little or no guidance as to what you should do now. GAINMORE™ Advantage changes all that. The GAINMORE™ Model provides a synthesis of the tools, techniques, attitudes and attributes of ‘good' leadership within a structured model supported with templates that enable you to physically learn the behaviours. We are using the game of golf as a metaphor and as an emotional learning hook, and golf provides a means for you to put your behaviours into physical practice for yourself first - i.e. self-leadership, then you can use the templates at work. All practised within a safe and realistic environment that is fun. The GAINMORE™ Model is developed from three major areas of thought leadership in the fields of management learning, psychology and leadership. It is a personal development model that provides the solid foundations on which the Leadership Golf Challenge is built. Build on this foundation the safe and realistic learning environment of a business simulation on the golf course and you have a leadership development programme that actually does what it says on the box. If you would like to know more about the GAINMORE™ Leadership Golf Challenge and how we can help you transform your leaders - whether your business issues are Strategy, Business Planning, Teamwork, Change, Marketing, Operations, Finance - we will work with you to design a solution that will address your ongoing needs. Call us on +65 62450908 or visit the website at We look forward to hearing from you soon. For full references, please contact the author
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