Golf is a silly game–millions of people around the world obsessed with getting little balls into little holes. It’s also an excuse to spend time outside in beautiful locations, get some exercise and hang out with great people. It can be great fun learning something challenging, or not, but nothing reveals character so well as a round of golf.
People drawn to the sport naturally want to perform better at it. This is a curse for players and an opportunity for business. Golf improvement is a large industry with many people offering different equipment, techniques and philosophies to shave strokes. Some are better than others.
This past week-end I went down to Miami with Stephen Lister, a world-class private equity investor, to spend two days in golf school with Jim McLean, a world-class golf teacher. In the presence of these two great men, I had a breakthrough I wasn’t expecting.
Jim is a pretty big deal. He’s an accomplished tour player who became one of the top three instructors on the planet. We had direct access to him for most of our time in Florida. I notionally understood I was about to have an amazing experience but I felt transformed pretty much from the moment I entered his orbit. Jim has a unique ability. His eye for golf mechanics is as solid as one might expect from someone of his stature but he seems to quickly find some reason to believe in each of his students. That reason is different for each of us. Mine has nothing to do with golf.
He never once forced a formula on me. Instead we quickly discovered where my natural abilities as a golfer lay and then he gave me a handful of very simple mechanics I'll practice in the coming season. The result was a sharp rise in my self esteem and with it the quality of my shots.
There is something amazing about hanging out with world class people. Stephen is also a pretty big deal. He and I spent our time in between sessions developing his plan to make Canada the best place to start and build a new venture. He’ll do it too. He has the unique ability of simplifying incredibly complicated problems and getting people connected to compelling visions.
I work in the venture improvement industry in Canada. Developing world-class businesses in our Country is maybe even more challenging that golf. I help people think about things differently. That’s my unique ability. People do not disrupt industries and compete effectively in the world stage without first disrupting their own thinking and identifying that part of themselves that is world-class.
I have struggled frequently with golf, sometimes to the point of near suicidal depression. I rarely win, but that’s changing. My problem is predominantly in my head, not in my swing. It’s ironic that I've never really found an effective way to apply my own unique ability to my own golf challenges until I stepped into the vortex between these two exceptional entrepreneurs and golfers.
Mechanics and metrics (like score in golf and profit in business) are the process and results of performance improvement but not their cause. How we think and feel about ourselves are the real drivers of world-class performance–mindsets and moods underpinning our level of engagement in the activity. I strongly suspect these are the real differences between world-class people and everyone else.