First Step Advisors
Education advisory services

First Step Insights

Insights and Observations.

Don't See the Shot. See the Swing.

How My Golf is Helping My Work. 

Golf is a special game. It's one of the rare sports that can bring together a beautiful setting, special time with friends, and soul-sucking rage that threatens to plunge me into the heart of darkness.

If you've ever stepped foot on a tee box,
then you know my pain. And my rage. 

After decades of adding new and colorful words to my vocabulary, I decided it was time to get lessons. It's working. My coach improved my game from that of a zombie in madras pants to a reasonably successful hack. I can hit the ball and almost always find it.

If you've ever played golf, you know
that regularly finding your ball is
no minor victory. 

One of the best things my coach did was to help me see what I was doing wrong. Granted, that was almost everything. Over time, we adjusted big things and made big gains. Then we adjusted smaller things and we still made big gains.

Best of all, I can now understand what I've done wrong after seeing my shot go wide right. Or left. Or not at all. The important thing is that I now have the ability to see what's gone wrong when my shot goes awry. That's powerful. 

There is power that comes from understanding
where your weaknesses lie and what skills you need to improve.

The power comes not from the ability to see what you've done wrong, 
but the clarity in seeing what to do right. 

I have always been able to picture what a beautiful golf shot looks like. I could see a nice high fade or strong and powerful draw. Lot's of good shots floating around in my head. 

Here's the thing, though, it should never have been about seeing the shot.
It should have been about seeing the swing.

But now, as with my golf game, what I'm learning is the most important part of my professional work is not just my ability to see the outcome, but the clarity in how to get there. I suppose that eluded me at times - the ability to carefully, consciously understand of why some of my projects hit their target and why some went out of bounds.

In golf, thanks to a better understanding of my swing, I can move through that soul-sucking rage much faster and start understanding how I got there. More importantly, I can use that understanding to anticipate my next shot. 

In work, thanks to a better appreciation for the value in self-reflection, I can see why some projects fare better than others. And I can adjust my approach to my next piece of work. My next client interaction. My next project. 

And this doesn't work just for me, but impacts the people I work with. For example, I often see sales reps move too fast or move off target during a demo. In many cases it's because they have a script and feel that moving through that script is the goal. But when I ask them to step back and reflect carefully on the discreet skills that go into a demo, they start to see the mechanics of their presentation in a new light. This helps them see why some demos work and some go in the wrong direction. That ability to see their own swing gives them the clarity to envision a better one next time. Now, rather than picturing a happy customer at the end of a demo, reps I work with picture an excellent demo. It's a subtle distinction, but one that has a big impact on their work. 

In golf it's just you, the club, and the ball. 
Why, then, are we prone to making things so complicated? 

I often see marketing associates churning out a lot of work product and, along the way, complicating their lives with too little to show for it. That's not to say marketing isn't complicated. It is, but too often a marketing group's checklist is the defining measure of their impact. That encourages more swings, not better ones. But as with golf, the fewer the swings the better your score. So, too, with marketing...a more effective, concise delivery with proper aim is going to score better than a concerted effort to simply swing more.  

Organizational leaders can be susceptible to this. Whether it's blaming the wind (e.g., the market conditions), constantly purchasing new clubs (e.g., high employee turnover), or simply swinging too hard and too fast, many leaders fail to appreciate the power of stepping back, slowing down, and thinking less about what's happening around them and more about what they need to do to execute.

If leaders want their teams to perform at the highest level, 
they should model the power of self-awareness. 

Hey, any golfer will tell you that it's easy to overthink your swing. So focus on one thing and then go for it. That's especially true when you're standing over the ball. What should be a quiet moment of self-awareness can turn into an onslaught of negative thoughts and distracting mental images. But if you simply let that go and simply think about the mechanics of your swing, you're going to have a wonderful outcome. It's certainly worked for me.

Now, if only I could putt. 

Jim McVety