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What golf can teach us about strategy

Is your leadership team's approach to strategy driving success, or is it leading to inconsistent and frustrating results?

My father has been an avid golfer for over sixty years.When I was young, I spent many Sunday afternoons caddying and learning about the game, particularly the difference between good golfers and bad golfers.

Good golfers are patient. They take 30 seconds before they hit the ball to rehearse the shot in their heads. They think about the lie of the ball (position) and the direction they want it to go. They think about the environment and how the wind or a wet fairway could affect momentum. Then, they think about what they should do (action). What grip should they use and what angle and position should their feet have?

A good golfer does this mental rehearsal every time they play a shot. It gives them consistency and means they can deliver a great shot more often, then learn and tweak to improve execution of the shot.

Impatient golfers (or hackers, as my father calls them) do things differently. They walk up to the ball and hack at it as hard as they can with little thought. While their approach is fast and moves quickly to the point of execution, it leads to inconsistent and often poor results. Consequently, a hacker zig-zags their way up the fairway, walking a greater distance, expending more energy and becoming increasingly frustrated. This of course, drives further impatience, and so the cycle continues.

In many ways, developing a strategy is like playing a round of golf. When leadership teams think through the relationship between where they are now, the direction they want to go, the potential impacts of their environment and the actions they need to take, they are significantly more likely to achieve success. Alternatively, when a team adopts a ‘hacker's mindset’ it leaps too quickly to hitting the ball (ie. creating a list of projects). This means the leadership team doesn’t understand where it is and can inadvertently head in the wrong direction. It means implementation is impacted by unexpected disruptions and the drive for premature solutions, leads to random results.

Idea in application

When you think about your leadership team and the way it develops strategy, which approach resonates most? Does your team take time to think things through together or does it go straight to planning and priority lists? Do its leaders just do their own thing, resulting in everyone heading in different directions? Whatever the approach, how does it affect implementation?

As planning for 2019/2020 comes around all too quickly, perhaps now is the time to start asking these questions.

About the author:

Kate Christiansen is an award-winning author who helps leadership teams solve crunchy business problems together. With 25 years experience leading strategy development and implementation globally, Kate facilitates high-energy leadership sessions and presents engaging and thought provoking keynotes. She also partners with the boards and executive teams of purpose-driven organisations, helping them focus on the things that matter while achieving community and commercial goals.

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