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 ofothers. 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 for recruitment assessment has shown that given a truly safe environment to practice the tools and techniques of leadership and management, participants are more honest and open (23% greater honesty) than using more traditional methods like interviews, they enjoy the process more (17% greater) and learn about themsleves that they demonstrate transfer of improved behaviours to the workplace (26% greater transfer). Not only this, but studies in societies where females are considered disadvantaged (and suffer discrimination) in management recruitment, show a their management and leadership competencies during a simulation based assessment process than a traditional assessment 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 areresources - even the golf pro can be a consultant resource.

The game of golf provides a fantastic platform to assess 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 leadership recruitment 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 Assessment Center, 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 programme exclusively for non-golfers - called ‘Hackers Days’ - which combine technical golf instruction with the Leadership Golf Challenge.

Can you just play golf to find leaders?

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.

Our Golf Leadership Challenge is a part of the assessment process. Even great golfers have bad days (just check out Tiger Woods' performance so far in 2010. How the prospective leader deals with a "bad day" though, now that is important!

Supported by psychometric assessment, interview and of course, reference checks, getting your candidates to play a round of golf together reveals far more that the skilled recruiter will observe and probe.

If you would like to know more about the GAINMORE™ Leadership Golf

Challenge and how we can help you recruit and develop your leaders - drop me a PM here.

Views: 352

Comment by C. B. Stalling!! on September 30, 2010 at 4:19pm
i love golf and i am a sr manager. I play everyTuesday for sure and some weekend. But to go play 18 hold and then drink and or eat I need to close alot of business to make of for lost time on the phones.
Comment by Chaser on September 30, 2010 at 6:45pm
Cool and interesting article but needs some proof reading...I play every weekend! Practice 2 times a week...
Comment by Paul Alfred on October 1, 2010 at 11:19am
I use golf to secure long-term relationships not to begin them .... Usually with high profile clients or Consultants ....
Comment by Dr. John Kenworthy on October 1, 2010 at 8:16pm
For those of you seriously into business golf, the purposeful playing of golf to develop relationships and business, my website GAINMOREGolf has tips and articles from myself, my golf pros and Mr Business Golf himself, Scott Duke. And I recommend joining the Business Golf and Country Club run by Scott on Ning especially if you are US based.
Best wishes


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