Golf course management and strategic leadership

Andrew Coltart wrote a fascinating piece recently on how young golfers are now relying more on laser yardage devices than a good old fashioned yardage book. Yes, he argues, you can use a laser on any golf course, but you can’t use it to plot your way strategically around the golf course. The laser usually only gives us one number  – distance to the flag. It does not tell us where we can’t miss or how much room we have around the flag. More young players are short-siding themselves, Coltart says, and so frittering shots away unnecessarily. This needs to change.

Is there a parallel in business? For me, the use of laser in golf is symptomatic of our modern desire for speed and convenience. If technology can reduce the faff (and provide precision), that can only be a good thing right? Well, perhaps. What it does though is tunnel our focus towards obvious targets (the flag), without increasing our awareness of the bigger picture (bunkers, slopes, run offs etc). A similar trend is not uncommon in business. The modern way is to focus on what is immediately in front of our noses, not the wider system. I was recently asked to coach a senior leader in the Finance sector. ‘She’s having terrible problems’ I was told. ‘She’s not managing her department or making money’. Here is an example of the laser approach by a CEO – an individual is obviously at fault (measure the yardage to the flagstick), so Nick…sort it out (fire at the pin).

Interestingly, it became clear all too quickly that the issue was not only with the coachee. My initial thought was that it was the CEO’s failure, a difficulty in setting direction for his team. But that didn’t feel quite right either. Did my laser really get that yardage right? Let’s check again….

Having just read Coltart’s article, I thought instead about devising ‘organisational yardage book’, gathering information about all sorts of aspects of the sector and place of work. It soon became apparent that the coachee, CEO, Executive team and organisational culture were having an impact on my coachee’s success. The interesting work to be done, was, as Peter Hawkins discusses, lies in the gaps between individuals, not just the individuals themselves. By targeting relationships and culture, not just one individual’s behaviour, we could start to make a different to the system. The issue soon resolved itself, increasing collective motivation and profitability along the way.

I’m with Coltart. Quick and easy doesn’t necessary equal good. The obvious isn’t necessarily the most correct. Golfers – use your yardage books. Plot your way around a golf course, don’t just rely on one number. Leaders – if there is an issue, chances are it’s not caused by what you think it is. You probably have a role, your team has a role and your business culture has a role. Plot your way around and target the system of your organisation and you’ll be more likely to find sustainable and impactful solutions.