What My Daughter’s Golf Tournament Has to Do with Performance Management

When I think about leadership, I tend to think about it in terms of inspiring people to a vision and then giving them the tools and training they need to be successful in achieving that vision.

That’s the high level, thirty-thousand-foot view, but it’s ultimately what we’re charged with as leaders.

What does this have to do with my 10-year-old daughter’s golf lessons?

Hear me out.

She’s been taking golf lessons for years and recently we decided to put her in a few age-appropriate tournaments, the first of which was the other week. One of the rules of this tournament is that parents aren’t allowed to caddy or coach their kids during the event. We’re just on the sidelines, like we’re watching the PGA tour.

At the first hole, she teed off and smoked the ball. I was such a proud dad!

Her second shot wasn’t bad, but she ended up in the sand. It was a monster bunker where she couldn’t even see out of it to the green.

I thought, I don’t know if she’s ever had to play out of the sand before!

As a parent, it was killing me to watch her hit the ball once, twice, three, seven times to get out of the sand.

After a couple more holes, she ended up in the sand again. At her fifth stroke, she realized she wasn’t going to get out the normal way and needed to try something different. So instead of trying to hit the ball to the hole, she turned 90 degrees away from the hole and chipped the ball out of the sand.

It was a brilliant move on her part, and it got me thinking that there are some really interesting leadership lessons there.

(I told you these were somehow related!)

Often in the workplace, we don’t allow our people to fail. I certainly understand that in some situations, failure is catastrophic, but in most situations when someone makes a mistake the world isn’t going to end. We all know that we learn more from mistakes than we ever do from books or even experience.

But it would have been so easy for me to step in with her and show her exactly what she was doing wrong. Thanks to the rules, I couldn’t do that.

After she adjusted her course, she made the decision that she couldn’t go right at her goal right now. She realized that she had to go around the barrier.

I think the lesson is that certainly we have processes and procedures in place for a reason, but sometimes they’re there just so we can say we have a process or a procedure. The younger generations don’t care about processes and procedures. They care about getting the work done. That’s exactly what my daughter did in the tournament— she found a different way to get around a barrier and get to her goal.

As leaders, how often do we not allow employees to figure out a solution to their own problem to get to their goal?

As leaders and managers, I think that if we have provided a vision to our people of where they need to go, told them the rules of the game, given them the tools they need (like training or, of course, golf clubs), then we have to trust that we’ve given them everything they need to be successful. We have to let them go succeed and make mistakes that they can learn from rather than hopping in to micromanage things right away.

After the tournament, we realized that in 4 years of golf lessons my daughter had only ever hit out of sand once. She didn’t have the skillset to get out of the sand, so at her next lesson she spent an hour in sand.

The fact that employees make mistakes is a great time for leaders to look and say, what are we missing here? What can we do to correct the course? How can we get our employees the skills we need?

Then we can change course and get our people back into training, so they can be successful next time.

I recently took a call with a client who wants mentoring for one of their supervisors. They want the mentoring to be low key because the supervisor is a great employee who just has trouble relating to the people she supervises. She ends up coming across differently than her true personality.

The client wanted to make sure she understood that her job wasn’t in jeopardy and that they really valued her. I think that’s a fitting example of changing course. This woman was put in a supervisory role because of her hard work and the personality she showed as an employee.

As a supervisor, her personality had changed a little. Did they need to demote her? Or did they need to give her the skills she needs and recognize that she may be feeling a little overwhelmed? Getting her the mentoring she needs will help her bloom as a supervisor for the organization.

I always encourage my clients to really take a hard look at these 3 questions when they have performance issues:

1. Have you given your employees all the training they need to succeed?
2. Do they have the tools and equipment they need to support their training and be successful?
3. Do we have an appropriate rewards system in place to reward the achievement of goals?

If those 3 items are in place and an employee still isn’t performing, then there may be a bigger issue around attitude.

Coming back to my daughter, she’s recently gone through a growth spurt. So, we just bought her a set of women’s clubs instead of using her junior clubs and she vastly improved her score this week.

It turns out, her tools were getting out of date and that was part of problem. When we updated her tools and got her the training she needed, she was out of the sand in one shot the next time it happened.

As for rewards, that’s pretty easy for a ten-year-old— ice cream after the round, or breakfast with dad. The workplace is a little more difficult. I’ve written a useful blog about motivation and rewards that you can read here.

But the big picture question is, do our rewards measure up to the level of performance we’re asking of our people? If not, we need to take a step back and re-evaluate.

If the people in your organization aren’t meeting your business or performance goals, call me at 717-314-3680. They may just need a little training and a new set of clubs.