Golf and Leadership
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
The challenges dental leaders face bear many similarities to competing in a game of golf. In both cases, the goal is to operate at maximum efficiency in an intensely dynamic, competitive environment while performing a technically demanding, precise skill. To succeed, dentists and golfers must think ahead, contemplate multiple scenarios and consider the downside of every decision. They must make use of every personal and organizational resource possible. Small margins in performance are frequently the key differentiators. As such, golf is an ideal metaphor to draw out leadership lessons.
Drive for Show but Putt for Dough
This common phrase means a long drive will impress the gallery, but golfers who usually win the money are those who putt well that week. Of course good ‘driving’ matters. But a 2-foot putt counts just as much as a 250-yard tee shot. An attractive office in the right location with modern technology is important. Those aspects of your practice give you credibility. They also are the ‘show’ of dentistry. Unfortunately too many dentists put more emphasis on those things than on learning to lead effectively. Case acceptance depends on your ability to connect with each person who entrusts you with their dental care. Clear communication is a requirement if you are going to have a high-performing staff. Make sure you are doing the little things right, because they count.
Ups and Downs Are a Given
Many golfers can tell you about their low rounds and their hole in ones. But golf is a tough game. Some days the ball bounces in your favor and other days it bounces into the rough or the water. The great Ben Hogan referred to golf as a “game of misses…the guy who misses the best is going to win.” He also said, “The most important shot in golf is the next one.” So too in your practice leadership. There are up days when the things fall in place and success follows. The key is to handle adversities with resilience, to learn from setbacks and to take that knowledge into the next shot or the next business decision. Change is inevitable and therefore adaptation is necessary for positive outcome. This lesson transcends within leadership that results are never a guarantee, and sometimes a little luck can make a big difference! You have to learn to take in the bad with the good.
Recovery is a Big Part of Success
On the golf course, bad shots happen. The question is, are you going to hit another bad shot because you are busy thinking about the shot before? In leadership it is the same. You have to learn from your failure and put it behind you. If not, the mistakes become exponential and can cost you more than the initial miss. Bobby Jones said, “Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course…the distance between your ears”. It is essential to quiet the mind to maximize focus for optimal performance.
Maintain a Light Grip
In golf, the grip is the only contact a player has with the club. It is counter intuitive that when you hold the club too tightly the club won’t perform correctly. In business, dental leaders need to have awareness and manage strengths (when strengths are overused they become weaknesses). ‘Letting go’ empowers employees by trusting them with delegation and the authority to make decisions (vs. controlling and micromanaging).
Bunkers and Hazards
Once you’re in the sand or the water, you have a choice about how you view it. Seeing it as a “trap” increases the likelihood that it will become that. Reframe your perspective to one that is positive or at least objective. Sometimes it‘s more optimal to be in the sand vs. the thick rough that grabs the clubface. Positive or objective thoughts neutralize physiological arousal and emotional reactions. Being in an ‘executive trap’ equates to defeatist thinking and missed opportunities to learn powerful lessons of experience. In business, being mindful improves resiliency, which improves outcome. Where you are is not as important as how you execute your next shot.
The Bag of Clubs
Golfers are allowed to carry up to 14 clubs in the bag at the same time. Every golf club has a specific purpose, to hit a certain type of shot a certain distance. The most accomplished golfers know that not every club in the set will be used during a single round. But if they need to make a specific shot they are prepared.
As the dental leader, you need a variety of skills too. Different personalities require different styles. However, many dentists habitually rely on a single go-to club. They don’t match the most appropriate tool to the situation. The importance of having the right club in your bag also parallels having the right team. Jim Collins’ reference of “getting the right people on the bus and sitting in the right seats” is an accurate analogy to proper club selection.
One of the great promises of golf is that you can always get better. So too with leadership. If you’d like to take your ‘game’ to the next level, call me. I would be honored to serve as your ‘caddy’.
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at email@example.com
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