Pictured above from left to right: Tom Purtzer, Bob Levenberg, Michael Jordan, Jim Granat
Sports metaphors abound in business (and in life). You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. Swing for the fences. Be a team player. Corporate lingo is laced with phrases borrowed from the world of sports, and entire books have been written about various sports as a metaphor for business. That’s because sports imagery is something of a universal language—you don’t have to be a Major League player to hit what I’m pitching (see what I did there). Sure, sports metaphors in business are commonplace, and yes, can be cliché at times, but there are still plenty of meaningful lessons to be gleaned from the court, the turf or the green.
This week, the best of the best in major championship golf will gather for the Masters Tournament of professional golf in Augusta, Georgia. Over 4 days and 72 holes, the exclusive field of players will compete for the coveted Green Jacket and a place in Masters history.
Throughout my childhood in Chicago, my college days at Arizona State University and my stint in professional golf, I’ve had the good fortune to associate with many great competitors and athletes. Since the age of 14, I’ve been lucky enough to befriend and compete against people like PGA Tour players Phil Mickelson, David Duval and Justin Leonard; MLB athletes Chili Davis and Dave Stewart; and NBA legend Michael Jordan. Being able to talk to and watch these incredible, best-in-the-world athletes gave me invaluable insight into the way they combined the best of talent, discipline, honesty, hard work and focus that lead to enormous achievements. Over the years, I’ve tried to apply these lessons to my own life and career in business.
I spent a good portion of my early years on teeing grounds, fairways and putting greens learning the ins and outs of the game of golf. After playing among top-ranked high school golfers, I played at the collegiate level for Arizona State University, and I was most fortunate to have a turn playing golf professionally in the mini tours. While I like to think that Tiger Woods had nothing on me, I eventually realized that finding myself a steady gig with a reliable paycheck would probably be a good idea for my future and my family.
As I’ve transitioned into the business world working in several different capacities, the lessons I learned playing highly competitive golf have given me insight into what makes a business or a business person successful. When it comes to how success in golf relates to success in business, there are three key takeaways.
- It takes discipline to tee up a successful game. There is no substitute for disciplined work in golf or business.
- It’s a gentlemen’s game. Honesty is key in both golf and business.
- Play your strengths if you want to make the cut. You must know your strengths and be able to adapt to certain variables to achieve success on the golf course or in the business world.
It takes incredible discipline to measure up to the professional ranks in golf. A solitary sport, golf is you against the course and you against the other players. There are no teams or set practices with coaches that dictate drills or prescribed putting regimens. And unlike a basketball or a football practice where you’ll push yourself to the brink of complete exhaustion in just a few hours, you can spend all day practicing putts if you have the discipline to do so. Playing competitive golf, I learned just how much discipline it takes to be that good. You have to be that self-motivated player who’s out on the putting green with a flashlight and won’t leave until you sink at least 100 three-foot putts in a row. There truly is no substitute for disciplined work in golf, and the same goes for business.
In my associations with some of the great competitors from the world of sports, I’ve seen one common theme: never-ending dedication that lead to winning with class. These individuals exemplified disciplined work to become among the best in the world in their individual sports, and the same principle can be applied directly to your success in business. When it comes to discipline with regard to business, it needs to be targeted. Come to work every day with a game plan and stick to it. Be laser-focused on the tasks that are going to directly improve your business.
In golf, it’s a game of gentleman. While there are many rules, penalties are self-imposed. Players shake hands, look each other in the eye and trust the process of self-policing the game.
In business, the Golden Rule also applies. Business is about people. It’s about relationships and reputations. Amongst your business peers, if you’re an honest guy or gal, they’ll know, and they’ll want to work and partner with you. It doesn’t matter how great you are at closing the deal, if you’re not trustworthy, you’re not likely to get that far. Put another way, if your integrity and ethics are questionable, even when you think nobody is watching, your reputation will inevitably suffer.
Know Your Strengths
Play to your strengths if you want to make the cut. In golf, every course is different and therefore every game is different. If you have a good wedge game, you attack the course to get as many wedges as possible, realizing you also have to adapt for things like pin placement and wind on different courses and different days. In the same vein, when you’re in the game and you realize you’ve got the momentum to take it deep, you’ve got to have the confidence to roll with it.
You must also know your strengths, and play to them, in order to achieve success in the business world. Consider the Hedgehog Concept from the bestselling management book Good to Great by Jim Collins. Based on the ancient Greek parable comparing foxes (which know many small things) and hedgehogs (which know one big thing), the Hedgehog Concept says that the best leaders operate at the intersection of three overlapping principles: doing what lights their fire, doing what they could be the best in the world at and doing what makes them the most money. When you hit that sweet spot, find a way to accelerate it. Have a game plan, study it and know your competition; then you can hit the gas pedal on that area where you know you have a competitive advantage to give your business a leg up.
Some success in both sports and business hinges on an element of luck. But you’ll find that a focus on being disciplined, playing an honest game and harnessing your strengths to achieve a competitive advantage will keep both your golf game and your business on par.