I took a golf lesson this past week during my monthly trip to our place in Phoenix. I probably should take a lesson more often than the once a year fix it lesson when I can’t seem to figure it out for myself. My golf coach looked over my grip, posture, alignment to the target, take away, swing path and finish. He proceeded to ask me, in typical coach fashion, questions that helped me notice what I had been doing that was no longer working for me. As a golfer I tend to make very slight adjustments to all parts of my game, grip, stance, posture, take away, follow through, etc – knees through, shoulders square, line to the target, do this, don’t do that, - adjust, adjust, adjust. After a while my swing looks nothing like I learned it to be. And I feel like I have no idea what is necessary to make it work effectively again or to enhance the game I have learned to love. Consequently, I watch my handicap slowly creep upwards and my enjoyment of the game increasingly move downwards.
What followed my lesson were two of the worst rounds of golf in recent history. I track all my game statistics and discovered that I had not seen as bad a score on these two rounds in over two years! These results made it very difficult to keep working through the adjustments I had made rather than going back to the swing that had become my comfort zone. After all, I could score better if I just went back to my old swing. And I knew I would not reach the next level of success and enjoyment by going back to old habits.
We find that many leaders we coach tend to follow a similar pattern to my golf story when it comes to their learning, practice and delivery of the art of leadership. When they venture outside the comfort zone that has become their leadership style it is usually with minor tweaks to the fundamentals of their leadership. After all, they already possess the ingredients necessary for leadership success. Therefore, radical change is not necessary. Being able to recognize the small steps and practicing them until they become ingrained should be a life long pursuit. We do not advocate tossing out all that has been learned so far, but rather seeing what needs to be modified for greater success. For some, the modifications may be greater than for others and like a golf coach, a leadership coach, can help someone see for themselves the shifts that are necessary. After that, it is up to the leader to spend time at the practice facility to hone the game. Imagine the challenge for leaders when the practice facility is always in front of the audience you lead – your people.
While at the practice area before one of my fateful rounds after my lesson, my playing partner, Jake asked me what it was that I learned from my lesson that I had not known before. That question helped me realize that I had not actually heard anything new in my lesson, but rather found that my coach had helped me see what I already knew. He held up the metaphoric mirror for me to see myself and refine what I already knew. The challenge for me was that I could not see it without engaging in conversation with a coach that had my best interest at heart and successfully supported me in my relearning the practices I already had at my disposal. Leaders, like golfers, can regularly use a pro to hold up the mirror for them to see themselves.
My challenge now is to stay with the corrections I have made until the muscle memory becomes natural. In the meantime I expect that there will be more rounds of golf with inflated scores and a rising handicap. Once the skills become more comfortable and less mechanical, my scores will come back down and hopefully pass through the handicap barrier I previously achieved. With that I anticipate the enjoyment of golf to also surpass previous heights.
I know how to play golf just like most leaders we work with know how to lead. The leaders we coach are typically very good leaders to begin with, and are searching for ways to take their leadership to new levels of success. Radical success as a leader comes after constant work on the practice field honing the skills that exist. The ever-developing leader becomes a significant leader when the game of leading becomes their passion and life pursuit.