Let’s talk about golf!
Golf is an enigma. (Now there’s a classic understatement!) Former PGA tour member Gardner Dickinson once said, “They say golf is like life, but don’t believe them. It’s more complicated than that.”
The sport abounds with perplexity and paradox: fairway and rough, dry land and water, green and sand trap. And then there are all the complexities involving mind and body.
Most of us are born with an arm/hand preference. Some of us are right-handed; others are left-handed. Golf says, “Don’t use what comes naturally! Let your other hand (your out-of-preference side) pull the swing through the ball.” For example, for many players their right hand is dominant in all other aspects of their lives. But in golf, if they allow the right hand to control their golf swing, the ball hooks—hello rough. However, if they learn to use their left hand effectively—a new swing style—they will hit the ball straighter and have lower scores (which, of course, in golf is better).
Isn’t that just like leadership? If we allow our dominant preferences to always be in control, we will often not have complete success. However, we can learn to adjust our style away from a dominant (and in some cases damaging) preference and become better leaders if we are willing to make some changes.
When I work with preferences in teams, we do a little demonstration about natural preferences. I ask each team member to sign their name to a paper in front of them. Then I ask them to change hands and sign that paper again. The nervous laughter abounds. I then ask them to describe that first (dominant) signature. Words like quick, natural, easy, without thought are what I hear most often. When asked to describe the second experience I hear words like difficult, took more time, awkward, had to think through each letter. We then talk about how working from our dominant preference often means that we do it “without much thought” whereas using our non-dominant preference causes a great deal of thought. Wouldn’t it be better if we faced difficult decisions from a balanced approach (dominant and non-dominant) rather than reaching conclusions “without much thought”?
To be successful in golf, players need to learn how to overcome or “position” their natural tendencies (or preferences) in order to hit just the right shot.
This is also true with leadership. We look for and focus on our strengths, but we are better leaders when we also allow other qualities to develop and come to the forefront. For example, it is not natural for many of us to be humble team builders. It is much easier to strive for the attention of others and build a personal résumé, ignoring the team’s input and value. But by intentional effort we can learn to be humble and at the same time increase our success as a leader.