Real Leaders

Playing Golf Can Help Your Career, So Start Thinking Like You’re On the Green

Golf has a reputation for being a very easy, laid-back sport. Some may even call it boring, although I find that a little harsh, but I understand it’s not for everyone. But I’m here to tell you that golf isn’t only one of the most challenging games you can play, but arguably one of the most frustrating.

Even golf legend Arnold Palmer has repeated this same sentiment, famously saying that “Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.” In other sports, you’re usually competing against one or numerous opponents. If you lose, it could be because the other side was stronger, had more endurance than you, or was more cunning. But in golf, you’re competing against yourself, the course, and the weather. Sure, you might be trying to outperform your competitors, but how well you play is entirely contingent on you and you alone.

Like in business, your ultimate fate is in your hands. I know — comparing golf to business might seem a bit absurd, but I’m a firm believer that some of business’ greatest lessons come from outside the office. Both exciting and humbling, below are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from golf that have helped me grow in my career.

Practice Makes Perfect

The only way to improve your game is to get out on the green as much as you can. Sometimes life, busy schedules, and bad weather can get in the way, but golfers who are committed to greatness will find time to get some practice in, whether that’s a quick trip to an indoor course or taking a few minutes out of your day to practice on an online golf simulator.

The goal isn’t to spend hours out on the course but to consistently and intentionally dedicate as much time as you can to your passion, even if it’s only a few minutes every day. The same is true in leadership. No one is “born” a leader, no matter how innate their abilities seem to be. Rather, great leadership requires a continuous journey of professional development.

Every time you lead your team through an issue or emergency, for example, be cognizant of what you did well and what you could have done better. Put this into practice the next time you run into a problem and, soon enough, you’ll find that crisis management will become second nature to you.

You should constantly strive to be better. Seek mentorship from a fellow colleague or another professional in your industry. Take advantage of any career development programs offered through your organization, or seek these opportunities outside of the workplace. Even if you’ve held the same position for decades, there will always be room for improvement.

But You Don’t Always Have to be Perfect

Golf is hard. It may not be physically demanding, but it can be mentally tedious. The second you start thinking you’re perfect is when you’ll play the worst game of your life. This is why golf is such a humbling sport.

You’re going to miss shots or hit hazards during gameplay; it’s impossible to play a perfect round every time. How you react in these moments is key to your success. If you’re too focused on being perfect, you’re going to get flustered when you make even the smallest mistakes, which will only lead to a greater number of bigger mistakes. It’s the same thing in business.

Every leader makes mistakes, from startup entrepreneurs to the world’s richest CEOs. No one achieves success by being perfect; they excel by taking risks, learning from their mistakes, and pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones. I once read a quote from the former CEO of IBM, Tom Watson, that said: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” It’s stuck with me ever since.

We can only become the leaders we all dream of being when we stop convincing ourselves we need to be perfect.

Take Time to Relax and Refresh

One of my favorite parts of golfing is the opportunity to go outside and enjoy the fresh air. I love it so much I opt out of using golf carts whenever possible so I can walk the course. It’s a time for me to leave all my outside worries and stressors behind and, instead, put all my focus into the game. Even though golf can be incredibly frustrating sometimes, it’s also the perfect way to relax and refresh. Even when I play my worst, I always leave feeling better than when I arrived.

As leaders, we spend all of our time focused on our duties, our team members, and the state of the business. Most of our days consist of meetings, while the other half involves putting out haphazard fires that happen throughout the day. If we don’t pull ourselves away from this environment from time to time, we make ourselves susceptible to burnout and stagnancy.

Leaders need to find time away from their responsibilities and their desks. Innovation and growth can’t flourish if we don’t give ourselves some mental reprieve from our jobs. Mine happens to be golf, but find the thing that allows you to reset yourself.

Golf has been pivotal to my career and shaping who I am as a leader. Whether you love golf or not isn’t the point. The point is that there’s inspiration and insight to be found in anything you do. Use this to influence every aspect of your life. You’ll be surprised just how much you can learn from the little things.

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