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Kenneth W. Keller: A few rules for winning in golf and business

Inside Business

Posted: May 12, 2009 5:51 p.m.
Updated: May 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.
The current issue of Golf Digest has an article by Dr. Bob Rotella titled, “10 Rules for how to win your major (golf tournament).”

These rules apply to golfers at every level as well as those running organizations and those seeking to become leaders.

Of course, golf is not business, but there are some similarities. Golf is highly competitive; a golfer plays against those in the foursome or tournament and against his or her own record. In a public firm, that means increasingly better quarterly results.   

A second similarity is to be as efficient as possible, using available resources to achieve the lowest score (fewest shots) to win. So it is in business. If you ever wonder why decision-makers in companies are reluctant to add more staff, it is because people come at a cost. Too many people create bureaucracy, slowing down decision-making and the ability to execute quickly.

The third similarity is that those who practice more tend to win. Talent is great, but even a not-so-great golfer (and there are many) knows that to improve from bad to fair to good, requires taking time to practice. In business, it is the same thing: Ask any solid sales person how they got to be that way and they will respond that they practice. If they don’t, the skills drift away.

In Bob Rotella’s article, he writes about what a person needs to do to win. These same rules apply to businesses.    

The first rule is to believe you can win. The second rule is that winning is defined for your organization. The two are linked.

Rotella tells his own story about finishing third-from-last in the 1985 Charlottesville, Va. city championship. Out of curiosity, he followed the leaders to compare his game to theirs. He watched for 18 holes and realized that these individuals hit the ball farther and straighter, hit better bunker shots, and chipped and putted better.

He left the golf course believing that if those guys could win so could he, if he practiced and got better. Rotella did just that, winning that same championship in 1993 with a 12-foot putt on the 18th hole. He kept his eyes on the prize.

The third rule is not to be lulled into thinking nothing matters but results. Why? Results aren’t the same as having a solid organization. How many organizations succeed in spite of themselves? Sometimes the results hide problems that can kill a business. Look at the auto industry as a recent example.  

Patience is the fourth rule. Golfers who get overly aggressive tend to make mistakes. Golfers who take their time and play for the long haul, succeed. Whether on the golf course or in the boardroom, patient play wins.

Everything counts. That’s the fifth rule. On the golf course, the only true measure of success is when every stroke is counted. Things like “Mulligan” and “do-overs” aren’t real in golf. In business there are very few, if any, second chances.   

The sixth rule is to find peace. A golf course should be a place of sanctuary. The game of golf is something to enjoy. Otherwise, what is the point of playing? The same is true in business. Those that dislike the industry, clients, vendors or the products and services, need to find another place where happiness will prevail. The most successful enjoy what they do.  

Embracing personality is the seventh rule. Successful people in golf and in business know who they are. They don’t try to be someone or something they are not.

From time to time everyone gets unsolicited advice about how to do better on the golf course. It might be a comment about how the golf club is gripped, or the proper stance, swing or putt, or how to clean the club. In business it is the same way. The eighth rule is to avoid these well-intentioned people.

Having a routine in golf and business is important. That means having processes and procedures that work to achieve the desired goals. The ninth rule is to have a routine to lean on because having the foundation helps when tough times happen, on the golf course or in business.

Finding someone who believes in you is the 10th rule. Successful people have a mentor of some sort who sees things in us that we did not see ourselves. They then coached us to take full advantage of those strengths. They empower us with belief.  

Ben Hogan, one of the best golfers of all time, considered quitting several times early in his career because he did not feel he was providing for his wife the way he should have. His wife Valerie wouldn’t hear of it, and she encouraged Ben on. The rest is history.

Kenneth Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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